Lambda Legal and City of Nashville Reach Settlement in HIV Discrimination Lawsuit 

Lambda Legal and co-counsels McDermott Will & Emery and Merchant Gould P.C. announced that it has reached a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County challenging the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department’s (MNPD) discriminatory hiring policies after the MNPD rescinded a hiring offer after learning the applicant was living with HIV.  

“I feel vindicated,” said John Doe, a 45-year-old Black man and decorated civil servant who filed the lawsuit anonymously. “All I wanted to do was serve my state and protect its communities, so I’m glad the city is now recognizing that living with HIV is not an obstacle to performing those critical duties. On the contrary, thanks to medical advances, HIV is now treated like other lifelong conditions. We can live healthy lives, be active members of society, and serve as first responders, police officers, parents, and any other job without any problem.”  

The settlement includes monetary relief to the plaintiff, as well as an agreement to update and rewrite the city’s Civil Service Medical Examiner’s (CSME) policies to make clear that people living with HIV are no longer categorically ineligible to serve as first responders or police officers.  

CSME is the governmental office responsible for assessing new applicants for employment and for conducting periodic or annual medical evaluations for current employees, and the Nashville Metropolitan Government and Police Department sets its policies for hiring.  

The updates to their hiring policies include:  

  • New language stipulating that any medical tests must occur after job seekers have been given an offer of employment and that HIV and other conditions do not automatically disqualify an applicant. This would mean that a person living with HIV or any other medical condition will be given a fair opportunity to serve, unless the condition represents a threat to the health or safety of the applicant or others.  
  • CSME will follow the most updated and latest scientific and medical information available. In the case of HIV, this means understanding that a person living with HIV can live a normal life, especially those who are virally suppressed, which means they have such a low viral load that it is statistically almost impossible to transmit HIV, posing no risk or threat to anyone.  
  • Nashville agreed to implement mandatory training for the medical staff who review and approve job applications delivered through a collaboration with Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center. Vanderbilt University would provide mandatory training on the most up-to-date science on HIV as well as offer optional trainings on a semi-regular basis.  

“We are pleased with this settlement agreement that makes clear in Nashville Metropolitan government policies that living with HIV is not reason enough to deny someone a job. Medicine has progressed by leaps and bounds, allowing people living with HIV to live normal lives and there are no reasons why they cannot perform any job as anyone else today. We hope this settlement serves as a testament to the work we need to continue to do to remove stigma and discrimination and update laws to reflect modern science,” said Jose Abrigo, Lambda Legal’s HIV Project Director and attorney in the case.  


In 2020, Nashville’s Police Department rejected the plaintiff’s application during the Civil Service Medical Officer’s exam process claiming that an applicant “must meet or exceed the medical standards set forth in the United States Army Induction Standards.” MNPD uses the Pentagon’s medical exam policies for hiring purposes. Lambda Legal is fighting this hiring policy in federal court in  Wilkins v. Austin, challenging the U.S. Armed Forces’ policy barring people living with HIV from enlisting.   

However, since 2022, the Pentagon is no longer discharging military members due to HIV status or considering HIV status for deployment or commissions, following a landmark ruling in April 2022. In two other related lawsuits, Harrison v. Austin and Roe and Voe v. Austin, a Virginia federal judge ruled that the military could not discharge, refuse to commission, or categorically bar worldwide deployment of servicemembers living with HIV who are asymptomatic and virally suppressed.  Moreover, Davidson County voters approved an amendment to their charter removing the problematic requirement tying eligibility to serve to the military’s criteria. 

This lawsuit filed in 2023, John Doe v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department argued that MNPD’s policies are unlawful and constitute a violation of federal law including, but not limited to, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  

This settlement is the latest win in Lambda Legal’s long history of fighting HIV discrimination nationwide, starting in 1983 with People v. West 12 Tenants Corp., helping to establish the illegality of discriminating against people living with HIV.  

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and policy work.