Working Healthy

Nail Technician Refuses Test for AIDS Virus

A Minnesota nail technician is suing her former employer for requiring her to be tested for the AIDS virus as a condition of continued employment.

Minneapolis —When a Wayzata, Minn., nail technician recently confided to the owner of the salon she worked at that her husband had died of AIDS in 1989, the nail technician didn’t know she was putting her job on the line. But in a lawsuit filed by the nail technician against the salon on January 10, 1994, the nail technician states that the day after she told the salon owner how her husband had died, the salon owner asked her if she had ever been tested for the AIDS virus. When the technician said she had not, says her Minneapolis-based lawyer Brian Hiding, the salon owner said she must be tested within one week.

“According to my client, when she refused to be tested and said she would find another job, the salon owner said that refusing testing was socially irresponsible and that she would let other salons know [that her husband had died of AIDS],” says Huling.

The lawsuit, which seeks damages of $50,000 against the salon contends that the salon owner violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by discriminating against the nail technician because of AIDS. “Minnesota courts have held that HIV is a disability under this Act,” says Huling. “Our position is that the salon discriminated against the technician .... There can’t be differential treatment [toward people with disabilities]; the differential treatment toward this manicurist was that she couldn’t work there [because she might have the AIDS virus].” The technician had been working at the salon for two months before the issue arose.

“The other basis of our lawsuit is that the salon owner wanted the technician to get tested. In Minnesota, you can’t have someone get tested [for a communicable disease] unless the reason is job-related. Our supposition is that a person’s AIDS status is not related to this job.”

According to the January 13 edition of the Star Tribune, a Minneapolis daily newspaper, “… the salon is concerned about a state law that requires a licensee to be free from communicable diseases.” One lawyer cited in the Star Tribune article said, “I don’t think the statute would be interpreted to cover AIDS. AIDS is not communicable except in very defined circumstances. It’s not a contagious disease like tuberculosis.” According to the Star Tribune, this lawyer said, “The question would be whether HIV status is relevant to the job of a manicurist.”

According to the national Centers for Disease Control, there are no reported cases of AIDS having been transmitted in a beauty salon. Says Huling, “The CDC’s guidelines say the risk of transmission is very remote for personal service workers. In regards to manicurists, the guidelines don’t promote testing.”

In a preliminary hearing on January 21, the salon owner agreed not to discuss the details of the case outside the courtroom. The trial date is set for May 23.

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