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Hair Cuttery reinstates stylist fired over HIV status

Apologizes, says firing based on ‘erroneous information’

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Brandon Smith, gay news, Washington Blade
Brandon Smith, gay news, Washington Blade

Brandon Smith was fired from a Maryland Hair Cuttery after he tested positive for HIV. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU of Maryland)

The company that owns the Hair Cuttery chain of hair salons has agreed to reinstate assistant manager and hair stylist Brandon Smith whom it fired from its salon in Greenbelt, Md., in August after learning he had tested positive for HIV.

The reinstatement and an accompanying public apology comes two weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland filed a discrimination complaint on Smith’s behalf over the firing against the Vienna, Va., based Ratner Companies, the parent company of the Hair Cuttery and other name brand salons operating in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the ACLU of Maryland said it was pleased to announce that Brandon Smith and Ratner Companies had reached an agreement to resolve the complaint that “will both bring justice to Mr. Smith and strengthen the Companies’ commitment to fair treatment of its clients and employees.”

The ACLU complaint, which was filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleged that the Hair Cuttery shop that fired Smith had violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based solely on someone’s HIV status.

In a dismissal letter given to Smith at the time of the firing in August, the Ratner Companies said it based its action on a Maryland regulation of the cosmetology profession. According to the ACLU, the company claimed the regulation prohibits hair salons from employing someone working as a hair stylist who has an “infectious” or “contagious” disease such as HIV.

ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon said at the time the legal group filed the complaint on Smith’s behalf that the company had misinterpreted the state regulation.

“You don’t get HIV by getting your hair cut, and we cannot allow unfounded fears to drive workplace discrimination against Marylanders living with HIV,” she said in an Aug. 9 statement. “The Hair Cuttery fired Brandon Smith notwithstanding the fact that he did not pose a significant risk to the health and safety of others, the applicable legal standard.”

In a statement released by the ACLU of Maryland on Wednesday, Dennis Ratner, founder and CEO of Ratner Companies, said, “Ratner Companies deeply regrets the dismissal of Mr. Smith from his employment with Hair Cuttery and sincerely apologizes for his termination, the company’s initial responsive statement based on erroneous information, and any harm done to Mr. Smith.”

Ratner’s statement adds, “Ratner Companies does not condone or tolerate illegal workplace discrimination of any kind, and it is not the company’s policy to terminate employees who are living with HIV or another disability.”

The ACLU of Maryland statement says Ratner Companies agreed to “make appropriate restitution to Mr. Smith” along with reinstatement. Jeon of the ACLU told the Blade the agreement reached calls for the company to provide Smith with back pay plus financial compensation for damages related to emotional distress caused by the firing.

“We are heartened by the quick action that Ratner Companies has taken to resolve the injustice suffered by Brandon Smith and to ensure that never again will an employee of Hair Cuttery or any other of the Companies’ salons be terminated because they are living with HIV,” the ACLU’s Jeon said in the group’s statement.

“It is our hope that this settlement sends a strong and clear message to other employers so that unfounded fears and misconceptions no longer drive workplace discrimination against those with disabilities,” she said.

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Baltimore

Carlton R. Smith: LGBTQ advocate, ‘mayor’ of Mount Vernon, passes away

‘The Duchess’ died on May 29 in his sleep

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Carlton R. Smith, an LGBTQ advocate, died May 29. He was 61. (Photo courtesy of Carlton R. Smith)

BY JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | Carlton R. Smith was affectionately called “The Duchess” in a nod to royalty, because of his unofficial role of mayor of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. He was a “walking billboard” for Calvin Klein, with a love for purple, Batman, cooking, house music, Prince, and Diana Ross.

“If you said Duchess, you knew who that was,” said his close friend of 25-years, Carrietta Hiers.

The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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Maryland

Moore pardons more than 175,000-plus cannabis-related convictions

Governor signed executive order at State House on Monday

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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

BY BRENDA WINTRODE and PAMELA WOOD | Gov. Wes Moore pardoned more than 175,000 cannabis-related convictions Monday, nullifying guilty verdicts decided when carrying small amounts of the drug or paraphernalia was illegal.

The Democratic governor signed an executive order during a State House ceremony, granting clemency to thousands of people convicted in Maryland. The convictions to be pardoned include more than 150,000 misdemeanors for simple possession and more than 18,000 for possession of drug paraphernalia with an intent to use.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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Local

Blade wins multiple journalism awards

Society of Professional Journalists recognizes writing, design work

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The D.C. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honored the work of the Washington Blade at its annual Dateline Awards dinner last week.

The Blade took top honors in the weekly newspaper editorial/opinion writing category for a piece by Michael Lavers, the Blade’s international news editor, titled, “Bearing witness to the unimaginable,” which recounted watching raw footage of Hamas’s attack against Israel on Oct. 7.

In it, Lavers wrote, “The Israeli government clearly wants the world to understand the barbarity of what happened on Oct. 7, and that is why it has shown footage of that horrific Saturday to journalists and lawmakers. The footage left me deeply shaken, and perhaps that was the point.”

Washington Blade graphic designer Meaghan Juba won the Dateline Award for front-page design in the weekly newspaper category.

And in the weekly newspaper-features category, the Blade’s Kathi Wolfe was recognized as a finalist for her piece titled, “Meet one of the most powerful disabled people on the planet.”

“These awards reflect our 55-year commitment to journalistic excellence,” said Blade Editor Kevin Naff. “Congratulations to our team for another year of award-winning journalism.”

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