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Lawsuit on 34th Street: Ex-Santa sues Macy's

NEW YORK -- It's only August, but Mark Woodley wants to be Santa Claus, and Macy's won't let him.

A lawyer for Woodley, who infected with the AIDS-virus and taking the antidepressant drug Prozac, said Thursday that he has filed suit against the department store for barring him from playing Santa at the department store this Christmas season.

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Two years ago, Woodley, 42, was one of 26 Santas Macy's hires each holiday season, and he was invited to return last year, said his lawyer, Margaret Winter.

But after the department store learned he was taking AZT, a medication taken by people with the HIV-virus, which causes AIDS, and Prozac, a widely prescribed antidepressant, Macy's withdrew their offer, Winter said.

'Being Macy's Santa Claus was a magical experience for me, and I think I was a really wonderful Santa,' Woodley said.

'I'm determined to win this case not only for myself and for the children, but also to stop Macy's from discriminating in the future against qualified people who happen to be HIV-posiitve or on a prescription antidepressant,' Woodley said.

Winter said Macy's was using Woodley's use of Prozac as 'a smoke screen' for discriminating against him because he has the HIV-virus.

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'They can't say its HIV that worries them,' she said. 'They say it's Prozac, but legally it doesn't mean any difference.

'The legal test is, 'Is this particular individual qualified, or is he being barred for a medical condition that doesn't prevent him from doing the job?'' Winter said.

'His having HIV has nothing to do with his ability to be a wonderful Santa Claus and neither does his taking Prozac,' she said.

Michael Freitag, a Macy's spokesman, 'After consultation with a physician, the company felt that given the specific medication he was taking, the Santa Claus position would be an inappropriate one for him and, in fairness, he was offered an alternative position, which he declined.'

Macy's offered Woodley a position as a supervisor of the store's Santas, but he turned it down.

Woodley, an architect who lives and works in Manhattan, tested positive for the HIV-virus five years ago but has yet to shown any AIDS symptoms.

He did not tell Macy's about his diagnosis in 1989, but did include what medicines he was taking on last year's application.

The Federal Drug Administration earlier this month reported that there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that Prozac users are prone to violence.

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The claim was started by the Church of Scientology, which unsuccessfully campaigned to have the antidepressant medication revoked from the market.

Winter said the lawsuit, which Macy's is trying to dismiss, has been filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan -- the same court where Santa Claus's sanity was debated in the movie 'Miracle on 34th Street.'

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 11.

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