Judge tosses suit alleging HIV-positive man was denied prison kitchen job

By Jon Campisi | Mar 16, 2012

A federal judge has granted a motion for summary judgment that had been filed by Chester County Prison stemming from a lawsuit the corrections institution was facing by a former inmate who alleged he was prevented from working in the prison kitchen because of his HIV-positive status.

Troy Anthony King filed a pro se complaint in early December 2010 against the Chester County Prison, the prison’s warden, the inmate services director and an inmate employment representative alleging that his bid to work the high-paying kitchen job was denied because he has the virus that causes AIDS.

At $5 per day, the kitchen gig is the highest paying job at the prison.

King initially filed a grievance on Sept. 15, 2010 in which he stated his rights were violated because of the denial to work in the kitchen. He claimed he was told by the medical unit that prison policy prevented someone with HIV from working in the kitchen.

The prison responded to King’s grievance by stating that it was “unfounded and without merit,” according to background information in U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller’s ruling, which was issued March 12 at the federal court in Philadelphia.

The prison’s response had asserted that institutional job assignments “are a privilege and not a right, and while an inmate may request to be assigned to a specific area, it is only a request and not in any way a binding agreement,” according to the judge’s memorandum.

King appealed the prison’s ruling in late October 2010; the warden issued a response on Nov. 5, 2010 that the ruling would not be reversed.

According to the judge’s memorandum, the prison denied that it has a policy prohibiting HIV-positive inmates from working in the kitchen, stating that it adheres to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ Access to Health Care Procedures manual, which states that inmates with chronic diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, can work in food service.

King filed his lawsuit on Dec. 1, 2010. The defendants filed their motion for summary judgment on Nov. 4, 2011, contending that King engaged in no fact discovery and presented no evidence to support his claim.

King never responded to the defendant’s motion.

In granting the defendant’s motion, Schiller wrote that the prison is correct to contend that inmates have no constitutional right to employment while in prison.

“Furthermore, once prison officials permit inmates to work, there is no right under the Due Process Clause [of the Fourteenth Amendment] to any particular job,” the judge wrote.

Schiller also wrote that King has no constitutionally protected liberty interest created under state law.

The judge wrote that the prison has wide discretion when it comes to doling out work assignments to inmates. Officials can consider a wide range of criteria, including an inmate’s classification, adjustment record, prior employment, skills, training, medical ability and the needs of the prison when it comes to determining who is eligible to work what job.

Schiller also tossed out King’s allegation that the prison, in denying him the kitchen job, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge wrote that King failed to present evidence demonstrating that the prison has a policy of discriminating against HIV-positive inmates.

The judge dismissed King’s allegation of Rehabilitation Act violations under similar reasoning.

The case was marked closed.

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