Charging Party Calls Firing from Entertainment Troupe'Worst Day of My Life'
LOS ANGELES The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today announced the settlement of an employment discrimination case under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) against Cirque du Soleil, (U.S.), Inc. for $600,000 and significant remedial relief on behalf of a performer who was fired for being HIV-positive. Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil is an international circus and entertainment troupe with 2,700 employees worldwide.
EEOC reached the voluntary resolution with Cirque du Soleil through the agency's conciliation process after investigating a charge of discrimination filed by Matthew Cusick, who worked as an aerial gymnast, and finding "reasonable cause" that the company violated the ADA.
"When I was fired from Cirque du Soleil it was the worst day of my life," said Mr. Cusick. "Today is nearly the exact opposite because I stood up for what I knew was right and changed one of the world's most popular entertainment companies."
In addition to the monetary payment to Mr. Cusick, the negotiated settlement requires Cirque du Soleil to appoint an equal employment opportunity officer to oversee the annual training of its employees on the laws enforced by the EEOC, with an emphasis on HIV/disability discrimination, and to post a Notice in its workplace about the resolution of the case.
Under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Cusick will receive $300,000 in compensatory damages, the maximum allowed for an individual under the ADA; $200,000 in front pay; $60,000 in lost wages; and $40,000 in attorneys' fees. Mr. Cusick was privately represented by the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, a national gay and lesbian legal advocacy group.
"I commend Cirque du Soleil for working constructively with our federal agency to resolve this matter prior to litigation," said Olophius Perry, Director of EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, which investigated the case and negotiated the voluntary settlement. "I encourage all employers who are faced with an EEOC administrative finding of discrimination to use our conciliation process to resolve the employment dispute quickly and efficiently."
Director Perry added: "Unfortunately, employers continue to have difficulty in recognizing what constitutes a 'direct threat' under the ADA, despite the fact that fourteen years have passed since the law was enacted. Employers must ensure that employment decisions are not based on myths or stereotypes, but rather, on reasonable medical judgments based on current medical knowledge."
Hayley Gorenberg, Director of Lambda Legal's AIDS Project added, "This is a huge victory for working people with HIV, because it tells employers that there's a steep price to pay for HIV discrimination."
In publicizing this case, Cirque du Soleil agreed to wave the EEOC's statutory confidentiality provisions which hold that the agency is strictly prohibited from confirming or denying the existence of charge filings, investigative findings, or resolutions unless or until the Commission files litigation against an employer.
In addition to enforcing Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, the EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the federal sector; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's web site at www.eeoc.gov.