Getting fired by Cirque du Soleil for being HIV-positive was like being thrown away like trash, US acrobat Matthew Cusick told Sydney Star Observer this week.
A year later Cusick has been awarded US$600,000 in compensation, the largest settlement reached through the Equal Employment Opportunity Com-mission [EEOC].
Cusick voluntarily disclosed his HIV status to Cirque du Soleil before spending four months training with the group. He was fired days before joining the Las Vegas show Mystere for posing a health risk to other acrobats.
Cirque du Soleil spokesperson Ren?Claude Menard told Sydney Star Observer by phone from Montr? the decision to fire Cusick was a stupid mistake based on ignorance.
It’s a bad thing happening to a good company, Menard told the Star. I don’t think anyone who knows Cirque even a little tiny bit has the impression that we’re discriminatory or that we’re not open-minded.
A nationwide campaign held across the United States during the court case has tarnished the company’s reputation for tolerance, with denouncements from celebrities including Nathan Lane and Rosie O’Donnell.
As part of the settlement agreement Cirque du Soleil is required to host annual anti-discrimination training for all employees worldwide.
The backflip by the company has been impressive (even by circus standards). Menard expressed regret to the Star that Cusick did not accept an offer to return to the company in the same role. I think he would have done a lot to raise HIV awareness and make sure that we’re always on our toes on the subject and help others, Menard said.
Cusick was unimpressed.
The EEOC will make sure that that education is put in place and that they will be doing the right thing -¦ I don’t feel like I need to be a part of that any more, he said, by phone from Washington.
They had eight months from when I was hired to the time that they offered me the contract and then terminated my employment to do their research -¦ My dignity does not allow me to represent a company that stood that strongly against me and chose ignorance over learned judgment.
When they fired me, they pretty much threw me away like trash -¦ It just seems like all they’re really looking for was to make amends in the media, so more people will go and see them now, he said.
Cusick now works as a personal trainer and will also begin work soon with New York-based aerial performance troupe Antigravity. Cusick said the only positive result from the case was in raising awareness.
I think more people are now aware of discrimination that is happening to many people every day about HIV, Cusick said. And I really hope that more people educate themselves as to how HIV is transmitted.