Cirque du Soleil Fires HIV-Positive Gymnast

The popular performance troupe Cirque du Soleil (search) has come under fire from one of its own performers as the debate rages: How far should an employer go to accommodate someone with HIV?

Calling the firing of Russian High Bar (search) performer Matthew Cusick discrimination, AIDS activists in San Francisco say he should get his job back. They claim his HIV-positive status poses no threat to other performers, despite the high-risk nature of his acrobatic act.

"I stopped everything I was doing to do this," said Cusick. "I became part of that family."

The city's Human Rights Commission has even opened an investigation, since Cirque du Soleil leases the land its training camp sits on from the Port of San Francisco (search), which prohibits job discrimination based on HIV status.

For four months Cusick practiced with Cirque du Soleil, but some trainers say they weren't aware he was HIV positive. Three days before he was to take the stage in the Las Vegas-based "Mystere" show, Cusick was let go.

"This particular act posed a risk and a threat," says a Cirque du Soleil spokeswoman.

Cusick has since filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (search) and hopes to be reinstated or to be compensated for lost wages. Cirque du Soleil says Cusick is welcome to stay on the payroll — but in other job capacities.

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