College, feds settle over HIV-positive student's discrimination complaint

A college in Gwinnett County has reached a settlement with federal authorities after it reportedly asked a student with HIV to discontinue her education.

The school’s president said he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.

A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta said Tuesday that Gwinnett College — which has campuses in Lilburn, Sandy Springs and Marietta and is not affiliated with Lawrenceville’s Georgia Gwinnett College — had agreed to “resolve an investigation” into allegations that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school will make changes to its enrollment process, change certain policies and procedures and increase ADA training for employees, authorities said.

It will also pay $23,000 to a now-former student of its medical assistant program.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that student informed Gwinnett College that she had HIV “as part of the enrollment process” and was accepted into the program. She “successfully completed one quarter of courses” as the school’s Sandy Springs campus.

“Only then did Gwinnett College tell the complainant that she could not continue in the (school’s) medical assistant program because she was a safety risk to others,” the news release said. The student then left the school and filed a federal complaint.

Gwinnett College President Michael Davis told the Daily Post he wasn’t aware his actions were illegal and thought he was keeping the rest of his students safe. He said the medical assisting program involves 25 “live injections” which students typically practice on each other and, though precautions like gloves and glasses are taken, mistakes can happen.

“My fear was that these students could get infected by their own stupidity, and that doesn’t mean anything negative,” Davis said. “… My stupidity was that I thought I was protecting the majority of my students.”

The sum that Gwinnett College has agreed to pay the alleged victim will cover “a portion” of her student loans and “compensate her for emotional distress, pain and suffering,” authorities said.

According to its website, Gwinnett College was founded in Lilburn in 1976 and was approved to begin offering associate degrees in 2003. Programs of study include paralegal studies, medical office administration, accounting and massage therapy.

A statement on the school’s website said it “supports the tenets and spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act” and will “make reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of any student with a disability.” It was unclear if the statement had been recently added.