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AIDS Patient Sues Kodak Over Firing, Claims Bias

Times Staff Writer

A 24-year-old man with AIDS filed suit Tuesday against Eastman Kodak Co., claiming he was fired because of his medical condition in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination against people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

“They told me I was terminated because of excessive absenteeism,” said Henry Herrera, who was fired last November. Herrera had worked as a pre-splice film handler at the firm’s film development facility at 1017 Las Palmas Ave. since October, 1984, earning $280 to $300 a week.

Herrera said he was hospitalized twice briefly last year and was diagnosed in October as having AIDS. He told the company doctor and his immediate supervisor that he had AIDS, then returned to work on Nov. 18, saying he was physically able to resume his duties, he said. But instead of being allowed to work, he was taken immediately to the personnel office and fired.

Herrera’s Los Angeles Superior Court suit contends that Kodak employees suffering from other medical conditions are treated “differently and in less adverse fashion” than he was.

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Other ailing employees are permitted to retain group health and medical insurance, while Herrera, as a result of his termination, was forced to pay for his own health insurance, the suit states.

A spokesman for Eastman Kodak said Tuesday that Herrera was “not terminated--he was a supplemental or temporary employee working on a contract that expired in October.”

“His contract was not extended and the reason it was not extended was excessive absenteeism,” spokesman Henry Kaska told The Times by phone from the company’s Rochester, N.Y., headquarters.

Kaska said Eastman Kodak does not have a policy of dismissing employees who might have contracted AIDS, and that AIDS victims would be treated like victims of any other disease or illness and entitled to the same benefits, including health care.

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Represented by Allred

Herrera, accompanied by attorney Gloria Allred, talked to reporters at the County Courthouse when the suit was filed Tuesday.

He said he went to the city attorney with his complaint last December but that the office declined to take on his case.

According to Mike Qualls, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, their investigation showed that Herrera was considered a temporary employee with Kodak and had been terminated because of excessive absenteeism.

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Although Herrera contended that the absenteeism was caused by AIDS-related illness, deputy city attorneys concluded there was insufficient evidence to proceed against Kodak under the anti-discrimination ordinance.

“They concluded it was a lawful termination based on the absenteeism and not because of the AIDS-related illness,” Qualls said Tuesday.

Herrera’s lawsuit alleges violation of city and state laws, wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, Allred said.

There are at least two other AIDS-related employment discrimination suits pending in Los Angeles courts, both filed since the first of the year.

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In a Los Angeles Superior Court suit filed in January, a former hospital administrator in a nursing facility claims he was abruptly and wrongfully terminated while he was hospitalized for AIDS-related illness. He contended that he soon was able to again perform his duties and that the health center denied him his unemployment benefits. He is seeking $500,000 in general damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

Another Case

Attorneys in another case, which was filed in Los Angeles Municipal Court in March, are negotiating now for possible settlement, according to a source in the city attorney’s office.

Since passage of the anti-discrimination ordinance in mid-August last year, the city attorney’s office has dealt with more than 50 complaints of AIDS-related discrimination.

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“Of those, about 85% have been resolved through education of employers and landlords, and through mediation” that led to compliance with the ordinance, Qualls said. Five cases are still being investigated and, in the remainder, there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing to proceed under the ordinance, Qualls said.


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