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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 12, 2003

Ex-postal worker cites HIV in suit

By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer

A former postal worker is claiming that he was fired from his job at the Makiki Post Office in January after his supervisors learned he was HIV-positive and partly because he had earlier filed a discrimination complaint against one of them.

The lawsuit filed in federal court yesterday on behalf of Matthew A. Walker by Honolulu attorney Clayton Ikei is against U.S. Postmaster General John Potter.

Ikei said he believes the lawsuit is the first to be filed in Hawai'i on behalf of an employee who claims to have been fired by an employer as a result of testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus.

"Despite federal laws, administrative regulations and even a U.S. Supreme Court decision, once the Postal Service learned of Mr. Walker's HIV-positive status, he became a target of discrimination," Ikei said.

Walker is asking for $300,000 in damages and to be reinstated.

The U.S. Postal Service issued a brief statement saying it "considers personnel-related matters to be private and confidential."

According to the lawsuit, Walker filed an informal discrimination complaint Aug. 9, 2001, claiming a non-Caucasian female supervisor was treating him less favorably than his non-Caucasian female co-workers on the basis of his race and gender.

Walker reached a settlement on his discrimination complaint in September 2001.

The suit said the supervisor later issued him a notice saying she intended to have him fired for sending a letter to a woman customer whom he believed to be HIV positive based on noticing the woman had addressed an envelope to his treating physician.

Walker contested the firing and during a union grievance procedure, he disclosed his HIV condition, according to the lawsuit. The firing was reduced to a suspension, which Walker did not have to serve.

But after his supervisors learned of his HIV condition, they subjected him to closer scrutiny and in February 2002, issued him a reprimand and 14-day suspension for leaving his "cash and stamps stock drawers out on the counter" at the end of his shift, the suit said.

Walker was notified Jan. 15 that he would be fired effective Feb. 8, according to the lawsuit.

Reach David Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.