Geoffrey Bowers

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Geoffrey Bowers
Born 1954
Massachusetts, United States
Died 1987 (aged 32–33)
New York City, New York, United States
Cause of death
AIDS
Occupation Attorney, activist

Geoffrey F. Bowers (1954–September, 1987) was the plaintiff in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases to go to public hearing.[1]

Early life[edit]

Bowers was born in 1954 in Massachusetts. He received his bachelor's degree from Brown University where he studied political science. He worked in a factory and as a television news reporter before enrolling at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City in the fall of 1979.[1]

Career and diagnosis[edit]

During his time at law school, Bowers earned a position on the Cardozo Law Review and worked part-time, first as a proofreader at a law firm and later as a researcher and writer for Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin, Krim and Ballon, a New York law firm. After his graduation he joined Phillips, Nizer, et al. as an associate.[1]

In August 1984, Bowers joined Baker & McKenzie as a litigation associate. Baker & McKenzie is an international law firm, and Bowers hoped to use his knowledge of Italian, German, French, Dutch and Spanish.[1] The following year, Bowers began to experience throbbing headaches and to see yellow spots. He was diagnosed with meningitis.[1] In April 1986, he was diagnosed with Kaposi's sarcoma and AIDS.[2]

In May 1986 the law firm's partners gave Bowers a satisfactory evaluation. Two months later, in July, they voted to dismiss him, without following normal termination processes, including consulting with his supervisor or asking for a list of his clients and billable hours. His supervisors objected to the decision, delaying its implementation. However, in October, 12 of the 15 partners again voted to dismiss him. He left the company on December 5, 1986.[1]

Baker & McKenzie lawsuit and hearings[edit]

Bowers subsequently filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights alleging discrimination. On July 14, 1987, the New York State Division of Human Rights held the first hearings in the case in a trial format, with Judge Amos Carnegie overseeing the proceedings. A representative for the firm claimed that Bowers was dismissed because of performance issues, while his complaint charged that he had been fired from his job because of the skin lesions that had begun appearing on his body and face.[2] Bowers died in September, at the age of 33, just two months after the hearings began. His faithful and long-term partner of many years, Alex Londres (a short story writer) died one year later, also of AIDS-related illness.[1]

The hearings took place over a total of 39 days, spanning 2 years. It took more than 6 years for the case to finally be resolved, when in December 1993 the agency awarded its largest sum for any complaint to that date: $500,000 in compensatory damages and the back pay he would have earned had he remained employed.[1] Baker & McKenzie appealed but subsequently withdrew the appeal in 1995 after they negotiated a confidential settlement with Bowers' family, forbidding parties from ever discussing the case or the terms of the agreement.

The movie Philadelphia[edit]

Bowers's family sued the writers and producers of the movie Philadelphia, claiming that it was based on Bowers' life. One year after Bowers' death, producer Scott Rudin had interviewed the Bowers family and their lawyers and, according to the Bowers family, promised them compensation. Family members claim that 54 scenes in the movie were very similar to events in Bowers' life, and that some of the information in the movie could only have come from their interviews. The defense said that after Rudin sold the film idea to Tri-Star Pictures, the studio which then went on to produce the movie, he had no further involvement in its development, that he had never shared with the studio any of the information that had been provided to him by the Bowers family, and all screenplay material originating from the Bowers case had been taken only from publicly available sources.[3] The lawsuit was settled in 1996. Although terms of the agreement were not released, the defendants did acknowledge that the film was "inspired in part" by Bowers' story.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Navarro, Mireya (January 21, 1994), "Vindicating a Lawyer with AIDS, Years Too Late; Bias Battle Over Dismissal Proves Costly Not Only to Worker, but to Law Firm", New York Times, retrieved 2008-02-25 
  2. ^ a b "Lawyer With AIDS Charges Job Discrimination", New York Times, July 15, 1987, retrieved 2008-02-25 
  3. ^ Pristin, Terry (March 11, 1996), "Philadelphia Screenplay Suit to Reach Court", New York Times, retrieved 2008-02-25 
  4. ^ "Philadelphia Makers Settle Suit", New York Times, March 20, 1996, retrieved 2008-02-25 

External links[edit]

Geoffrey Bowers at Find a Grave