HIV-positive hair stylist wins discrimination case against employer Ricky Reyes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Popular hairstylist Ricky Reyes and his business associate were found guilty of discrimination and unlawful termination of Renato Nocos, their HIV-positive employee.

This verdict of the Philippines' labor and management mediation court was announced on Saturday (February 6) by labor group Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP).

“HIV illness is not highly contagious and it is not transmitted through touching, hugging, sneezing, coughing, eating or drinking common utensils or being around an infected person," the decision read.

"Thus, the means by which they (Reyes et al) tried to protect their other employees and customers unduly trampled upon the rights of the complainant."

Transferred, fired

Labor arbiter Joanne G. Hernandez-Lazo said in a 10-page decision that Reyes transferred Nocos to a branch on the brink of bankruptcy upon learning about the complainant's condition.

When the branch was shut down, Nocos was never given any assignment.

He was fired on February 28, 2014 after informing Reyes and business partner Tonneth Morena that he has an HIV infection.

This prompted Nocos to file a case of discrimination, unlawful termination, non-payment of lawful wages and benefits against Reyes and Moreno at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) on March 3, 2014.

Apart from that, he filed a separate case against the two for not paying his Social Security System (SSS) and Philhealth insurance premium. He started working for the company on July 16, 2003.

Last week, the NLRC ordered Reyes to reinstate Nocos, while paying his back wages and benefits including salary differentials, emergency cost of living allowances, mandatory 13th month pay, separation pay, and attorney's fee, all amounting to P615,313.

“There is now a good reason for me to strive harder and get my life back, confident that justice shall reign supreme. On other hand, this victory is an encouragement for those HIV positive human beings like me who are fighting for respect and dignity. Deep in my heart, I’m praying for NLRC to dismiss any appeal. And I’m praying for enlightenment for my boss Mother Ricky,” Nocos said.

ALU national executive vice president Gerard Seno condemned such oppression.

“Oppression like this happens because there are still a great majority in our society whose judgment calls are still guided by their ignorance about HIV and AIDS," Seno said.

"Labor unions feel there’s a strong need to combine and connect the old and the new paradigms about HIV and AIDS in order to minimize stigma and discrimination surrounding the phenomenon."