38-year-old Reymundo Martinez became HIV positive a few months after he started working as a busboy for The Ivy, a Beverly Hills-adjacent restaurant popular among celebrities. A few months later, in January 2011, he began taking medication for his condition that made him feel ill.
Despite a doctor's note requesting a work schedule change, Martinez was fired later that month. Soon after, he lost his car and his home. He is currently homeless in Los Angeles, a spokesman from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) told The Huffington Post.
On Thursday, MALDEF announced a lawsuit against the restaurant for allegedly violating the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) by firing Martinez because he is HIV positive.
"The Latino workforce is the backbone of many critical industries in California, including the restaurant industry,” MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said in a statement. “Latino workers deserve protection, like anyone else, from discrimination based on bias against health condition or based on any other irrational bias."
Ivy owner Richard Irving told HuffPost that his lawyer advised him not to discuss Martinez's termination. However, he did say, "We didn’t know that he had HIV until months after he left and we got a letter from his attorney."
Earlier, Irving told the LA Weekly that Martinez had virtually been on probation because he wasn't an adequate employee. He said to LA Weekly:
We had a lot of complaints from his fellow workers that he wasn't pulling his weight. We don't enjoy letting people go, and we try to give them the benefit of the doubt. We didn't act immediately. We tried to get him trained and tried to help him and gave him time. But he never caught on, and he was never good.
Vincent Bennett, a civil rights attorney for twenty one years, told HuffPost that it looks like The Ivy is "facing significant potential liability," especially because Martinez turned in a doctor's note requesting a schedule change.
"Before any employee is terminated, there needs to be an active process exchanged between employee and employer directly for purposes of learning the scope of the employees' needs," Bennett said. "That’s supposed to be done in good faith, and it doesn't look like it was done at all here."
While MALDEF has filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of Latino individuals, this is its first HIV discrimination case. A MALDEF spokesman told HuffPost that one of the cases it is looking at for precedent is that of gymnast Matthew Cusick, who received $600,000 in a settlement from Cirque du Soleil, after the company was sued for allegedly firing Cusick because he was HIV positive.
The Ivy has 20 days to respond to the Martinez lawsuit.