Cirque du Soleil illegally sacked HIV+ acrobat: US authorities
February 2, 2004
LOS ANGELES — Canada's famed Cirque du Soleil acrobatics act appears to have illegally sacked a trapeze artist because he was infected with the virus that leads to AIDS, US anti-discrimination authorities said Friday.
A months-long investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that the world-famous circus had probably discriminated against American acrobat Matthew Cusick
because he was HIV positive.
In a letter sent to Lambda Legal, a US gay rights group representing Cusick, the commission's Los Angeles office said it had "cause to believe" that the circus had discriminated when it
"discharged him because of his disability, record of disability,
and being regarded as disabled."
"This is a major development," Hayley Gorenberg, head of Lambda
Legals AIDS Project, said of the commission's Lambda as vindication
of its stance.
"The federal government has looked very carefully at Cirque du Soleils actions, and its investigation confirmed there is evidence
that Cirque engaged in unlawful discrimination.
"For the last eight months, we have tried to get Cirque du
Soleil to understand the seriousness of firing someone simply
because he has HIV. At every juncture, weve been met with claims
that are based on fear and ignorance instead of science and
Cusick, 32, claims he was trained for four months by Cirque du
Soleil after voluntarily disclosing he was HIV positive and was
later offered a part in its "Mystere" show in the desert gambling
mecca of Las Vegas, Lambda said.
But on the eve of his departure for Las Vegas a year ago, he was
told that he was no longer welcome because he had HIV and presented
a "hazard in the workplace," said Lambda officials who filed the
complaint on Cusick's behalf.
The equal opportunity commission has offered to mediate in
conciliation talks between Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, in
which Lambda said it would take part in the hope of settling the
But press reports said that Cirque du Soleil had offered to
reinstate Cusick and that it would not put restrictions in the kind
of acts he could appear.
"We hope this is the case and that they mean it," a Lambda
official told AFP.
The commission's conclusion that there was cause to believe that
discrimination had taken place is its most serious finding,
according to Lambda.
Neither the circus nor the commission could immediately be
reached for comment. –Sapa-AFP
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