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Firm That Fired Lawyer With AIDS Ordered to Pay $500,000

January 8, 1994 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A law firm that fired a lawyer with AIDS has been ordered to pay more than $500,000 to the lawyer’s estate.

The law firm, Baker & McKenzie, plans to appeal the decision, which was announced Friday by the state Division of Human Rights. The law firm says it was not aware that Geoffrey Bowers had AIDS when he was fired.

The case is reminiscent of the movie ″Philadelphia,″ in which Tom Hanks portrays a corporate lawyer with AIDS who sues his law firm after he is fired.

Geoffrey Bowers was fired in 1986 from the Manhattan office of Baker & McKenzie, a law firm with branches around the world and more than 1,000 lawyers.

The firm said he was fired because of his on-the-job performance, but he filed a complaint with the state agency, saying he was discriminated against because he had AIDS.

He died in September 1987, shortly after completing testimony in the case.

On Dec. 17, the agency ordered the law firm to pay a half-million dollars in compensation to his estate, plus back pay from the time of his termination to the time of his death.

Lynne Weikart, the agency’s executive deputy commissioner, called the firing ″devastatingly cruel.″ In her decision, she said that losing his job took from Bowers ″the one thing which kept his spirits high in spite of impending death.″

While Bowers never told anyone at the firm that he was gay or that he had AIDS, doctors testified that he had disfiguring lesions on his face from Kaposi’s Sarcoma, an AIDS-related infection.

The human rights division said Baker & McKenzie’s claim that the lesions were not recognized as a sign of AIDS was ″implausible.″

Les Fagen, who is handling the appeal, said the firm didn’t knowingly fire Bowers because of his illness. He said that in 1986, people were not as familiar with AIDS as they are now.

He said Bowers’ co-workers and supervisors accepted at face value his contention that the marks on his skin were the result of a bicycle accident.

The award is the largest ever ordered by the human rights agency.