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Commission on AIDS Proposes Sweeping Anti-Bias Ordinance

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Commission on AIDS approved a proposed ordinance Friday that would bar public and private employers, landlords, schools and businesses from discriminating against sufferers of AIDS and those merely suspected of having the disease.

The sweeping anti-discrimination measure, if adopted by the Board of Supervisors, would make it illegal to exclude from jobs and promotions AIDS victims, people with the AIDS virus and those an employer suspects might be infected. It also would prohibit the denial of housing or consumer services to such people.

“It’s a question of facing reality that there are those people in the community who are mean-spirited and who are punitive and who wish to take out some vengeance on people with AIDS,” said Rabbi Allen Freehling, chairman of the AIDS Commission, an advisory body.

“What we’re doing is calling upon the Board of Supervisors to, by law, say to those people: ‘You cannot do this,’ ” he said.

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Freehling said he is optimistic that the board will endorse such an ordinance, but it remains uncertain whether the supervisors--dominated by a conservative majority--will adopt a measure that is expected to be opposed by business interests.

In casting the lone commission vote against the proposal, Herbert Schisler asserted that the ordinance could harm small business owners who may be reluctant to hire someone with AIDS for financial reasons.

Schisler, an appointee of Supervisor Pete Schabarum, cited the example of a beautician or barbershop owner who fears that business will drop if customers learn the owner has an employee with AIDS.

“I don’t believe there is adequate protection for the little guy in this ordinance,” said Schisler, who tried to include a provision exempting businesses that can prove a financial hardship if they hire someone with AIDS.

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Instead, the commission voted overwhelmingly in favor of a proposed ordinance that is similar to those passed earlier by the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

Under the proposed county ordinance:

- Employers would not be allowed to reject job applicants because they have AIDS or an AIDS-related condition or are suspected of having such conditions. Nor could they demote or fire workers for those reasons.

- Employment agencies would be prohibited from refusing to refer such people for jobs. And labor unions would be prohibited from excluding them from membership or from job training programs.

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- Landlords would not be able to refuse housing or to evict tenants on the grounds that they suffer from, or might suffer from, AIDS. Exempted from this restriction would be housing where an owner or lessor or any member of his or her family shares the dwelling with a tenant.

- Businesses would not be allowed to deny “goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations” on grounds of AIDS.

- Educational institutions could not bar admission or impose different conditions on students because of fear of AIDS or AIDS-related conditions.

The proposed ordinance, which would affect the county’s unincorporated areas, allows for victims of AIDS discrimination to file civil lawsuits or obtain injunctions within a year of the alleged discrimination. The measure calls for the courts to award “actual damages and costs” to victims who can prove their rights were violated.

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The proposed ordinance would protect those who suffer from AIDS, AIDS-related complex and those who have tested positive for the virus. People who are merely “perceived” to have any of these conditions also would be protected.

The measure includes exceptions for health or safety reasons but demands that the business or employer excluding an AIDS victim prove that case.

In presenting the ordinance to the commission, Steven J. Carnevale, principal deputy county counsel, said he had “reduced the scope” of the original draft as suggested by Board Chairman Deane Dana, a move that could improve its chances of passage.

Unlike the Los Angeles city ordinance, the county’s proposal does not provide a full-time attorney to enforce it, Carnevale said. Also absent from the proposed ordinance are provisions for punitive damages or court costs for plaintiffs who win their lawsuits.

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Carnevale also said that legislation by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) prohibiting discrimination against Californians who test positive for the AIDS virus could end up superseding the county measure. The Vasconcellos bill is awaiting Gov. George Deukmejian’s signature.


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