Matter of Matthew Cusick and Cirque du Soleil
Groundbreaking case arguing against Cirque du Soleil’s decision to fire an employee because of his HIV status
In this landmark HIV discrimination case, Lambda Legal represented Matthew Cusick, who was fired from his job as a gymnast in Cirque du Soleil because he has HIV. Cirque hired Cusick to train for its popular Las Vegas-based show, Mystere. Cusick spent months training and cleared exams by Cirque’s doctors, who said he was a healthy athlete, fully capable of performing. But shortly before he was scheduled to start, Cirque told Cusick that because he has HIV, the company would not continue to employ him. Cusick called Lambda Legal’s Help Desk. We filed a federal discrimination complaint charging that Cirque had no reason to fire Cusick, since he does not pose a health risk or safety threat to himself or anyone else. Following a determination by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Office Commission that Cirque had likely engaged in illegal discrimination, Lambda Legal reached a settlement with the company — the largest settlement ever for an HIV-discrimination complaint settled with the EEOC. Cirque paid a record $600,000 to end the federal disability complaint, initiated companywide antidiscrimination training and altered its employment policies worldwide concerning people living with HIV.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with disabilities, including HIV, from discrimination in every state.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
This is one of many examples of Lambda Legal’s vigorous efforts to ensure that people with HIV and LGBT people are treated fairly at work. The case upholds the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also shows that it is the responsibility of employers to be up-to-date on the facts of HIV and treat people with HIV as they would treat other employees — and not rely on myths, fears and stereotypes about the disease.
- July 2003 Lambda Legal files federal discrimination complaint against Cirque du Soleil. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) initiates investigation.
- January 2004 EEOC issues determination that Cirque du Soleil likely engaged in illegal discrimination.
- April 2004 Victory! Lambda Legal negotiates a $600,000 settlement for Cusick, the largest settlement of an HIV-discrimination claim within the EEOC system. Cirque agrees to change its company policy worldwide regarding HIV discrimination and provide its employees with antidiscrimination training.