Cirque du Soleil illegally sacked HIV+ acrobat: US authorities

February 2, 2004

Matthew Cusick (www.beingalivela.org)

Cirque du Soleil's The Magic of Alegria
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 medicine."

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 dispute.

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

Related links
Gay Sport web site
Out Sports web site
Washington Blade web site

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