Utah's Industrial Commission has launched an investigation into charges that the Southland Corp., owner and operator of 7-Eleven convenience stores, demoted a local store manager because he carries the AIDS virus.

A commission investigator and the two parties met behind closed doors last week to discuss the case in hopes of either reaching a settlement or call an investigation.Dennis Farrell, 30, said he is a homosexual, tested positive for the fatal virus last year and told his employer about it. The decision to investigate was not what he wanted, he said.

"I am disappointed that they (Southland) didn't offer some kind of a settlement."

Farrell says that he disclosed to Southland last December that he had tested positive for AIDS, and six weeks later was demoted to assistant manager. Rather than take a cut in pay and responsibility, he resigned in February.

He alleges Southland demoted him because he carried the AIDS virus, and thus violated Utah laws prohibiting discrimination of handicapped or medically afflicted people, which would include AIDS carriers.

Southland is also appealing Farrell's unemployment benefits to the Utah Department of Employment Security.

Southland said its dealings with employees are confidential, but local personnel manager Pete Wei did say that Farrell's situation dealt with his performance as a manager, not his handicap, and he wasn't discriminated against.

Wei said the national convenience store chain has had other cases of AIDS among employees, but "as long as they are performing" they have not been dismissed or demoted. Wei declined to disclose where those other cases are located or any other details about them.

Farrell has been open about his case, although the commission's proceedings and files on discrimination matters are confidential and closed to the public.

He said he is talking about his case to publicize the problem of AIDS sufferers being intimidated by employers and forced to quit.

"There are several cases like mine, but people don't want to come forward about it because they are afraid of making it known that they are gay or intravenous drug users," said Farrell, who is a volunteer for the Utah AIDS Project.

But Farrell said he only knows of one other case that was brought to the Industrial Commission and has yet to be settled. Commissioner John Florez said he believes that case had been settled, but he didn't have details available to discuss it.

Farrell acknowledges that his public stance could jeopardize his chances of finding another job while he still has his health, but he said he feels obligated to get the word out.

Before publicizing his case, his job search yielded nothing, but he doesn't believe his AIDS virus is the reason. "I don't tell employers I have tested positive because it doesn't affect my work in any way. I am not sick and I am doing well healthwise."

Asked what he was seeking by way of a settlement, Farrell said he didn't know, but he does need money to defray his $100 a month health insurance costs and other expenses.

"I also want them (Southland) to know they are doing something wrong," he said.