By Joshua L. Moore
President, Detroit Legal Services
Over the past month, Great Expressions Dental Centers has brought forth a campaign of misinformation that is, quite frankly, appalling. I have worked in HIV services for 18 years and have never observed such behavior out of a group of human beings toward the HIV population. I am not sure if they received bad PR advice or if this was a panicked response to a growing movement from a petition on Change.org, but Great Expressions crossed the line with their misinformation and contradictory responses to James White.
Richard Beckman, CEO of Great Expressions, stated that the company was “very sympathetic toward anybody with HIV.” Yet, in the same breath Great Expressions filed a lawsuit against James White alleging, among other things, that James “has fostered an online campaign against Plaintiff seeking to induce other individuals to protest Plaintiff’s services, and paint Plaintiff in a false, negative light.” Let’s be clear, James White did not foster anything online or off against Great Expressions. The campaign online was in response to a POZ Magazine article about James White and his case. The campaign was started by James Harris, a young HIV positive activist who felt compelled to offer his support for James White through an online petition on the website Change.org.
Mr. Beckman’s sympathy spills over to James Harris. The young college student trying to help make a difference was sent a threatening letter from the Great Expressions attorney. The cease and desist letter sent from Great Expressions’ attorney, among other things, suggests to Mr. Harris that he would need to hire an attorney to defend himself against legal action from Great Expressions. Great Expressions sympathy seems to only be for those with HIV that do not question his company’s policies.
Great Expressions states that they did not fire James White because of his HIV status, but instead insist that it was due to James being tardy and absent. The EEOC investigated this case thoroughly and concluded that Great Expressions reasons for firing James were “pretextual.” The EEOC ruled that Great Expressions was untruthful in their reasoning of why they fired James White. Nevertheless, Great Expressions refuses to stop with the nonsense, reasoning they fired James due to unexcused absences.
According to The Detroit News, Mr. Beckman stated that he would not normally comment on something like this but it has “gotten out of control.” So Great Expressions will respect the privacy of their employees and former employees unless the situation gets “out of control.” Great Expressions has stated that they do not discriminate against the GLBTQ (sic) community. However, this is not about the LGBTQ community, this is about discrimination under the ADA and the determination by the EEOC that Great Expressions did subject James to discriminatory discipline, denied reasonable accommodations, and that the reason Great Expressions gave (i.e. tardiness and absences) for firing James was untruthful.
Great Expressions could have chosen to do the right thing and set an example for corporate responsibility. Instead, they have chosen to bully those with HIV and spread misinformation. Great Expressions can still choose to do the right thing. They could choose to embrace the HIV community and educate themselves. As a long term person living with HIV, I can tell them one thing is for sure: The HIV community is not going anywhere and this will not end until they choose to do the right thing.