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Ex-Dental Center Worker Claims HIV Discrimination

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DETROIT (AP) – A former dental center employee in Michigan claims that he faced discrimination at work and was fired because he has HIV, including employees sanitizing his work station.

Bloomfield Hills-based Great Expressions Dental Centers denies the allegations made by 26-year-old James White in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The Detroit News reported Thursday.

Great Expressions, which has 150 dental centers in seven states, filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking a judgment that employees didn’t discriminate against White.

The lawsuit comes after the EEOC concluded in October that there was reasonable cause to believe that company employees had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act. The EEOC suggested $224,000 for back pay and damages.

White, of Macomb County’s Macomb Township, worked for Great Expressions in 2008 and 2009. According to the EEOC complaint, he began working for the Great Expressions as a patient coordinator who answered phones and checked patients in and out.

After White was diagnosed with HIV in January 2009, White said he told his supervisor, who notified a regional manager. White said the regional manager called White into an office and said he heard that White had AIDS.

“I told him I didn’t have AIDS, I had HIV, there was a difference,” White said. “He said it wasn’t a big deal.”

But then employees were instructed to sanitize things he touched, according to White. At one point, according to the complaint, he was escorted out of the building after developing a rash and wasn’t allowed back until he had a doctor’s note.

“It made me feel like I wasn’t even human,” White said. “I felt ashamed and humiliated.”

The company’s lawsuit says it was White’s excessive absences and tardiness that led to his termination.

“He did work for us and he was terminated,” said Richard Beckman, CEO of Great Expressions. “But it had nothing to do with his illness. We are very sympathetic toward anybody who has HIV.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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