Labor & Employment Law Daily FedEx Ground agrees to pay $3.3M to end long-running hearing discrimination suit
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Thursday, May 21, 2020

FedEx Ground agrees to pay $3.3M to end long-running hearing discrimination suit

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

Resolution of the systemic discrimination allegations against deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and applicants will bring relief to 229 people.

The EEOC announced on May 19 that FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., will pay $3.3 million and provide programmatic relief to resolve allegations that the giant package delivery provider violated the ADA companywide when it denied deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers reasonable accommodations, and discriminated against deaf and hard-of-hearing applicants for the position. The long-running case began in 2014.

Systemic investigation. Package handlers are responsible for loading, unloading, scanning, and routing packages at the company’s distribution facilities. The EEOC said that it conducted a nationwide systemic investigation after numerous deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers filed ADA discrimination charges with EEOC offices throughout the country. The EEOC brought its lawsuit in September 2014 in Maryland; it was later transferred to the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Common disability, common position, common qualification standards. In January 2016, the federal district court denied FedEx Ground’s motion to dismiss the EEOC’s failure-to-accommodate claims, finding that the agency was not required to bring the claims as multiple individual lawsuits, nor did it need to identify any singular discriminatory procedure or policy to litigate a systemic disability discrimination claim. Although establishing that individuals are “qualified” is a predicate to ADA claims, that did not make proceeding collectively inappropriate here, where all claimants and potential claimants shared a common disability (deaf or hard-of-hearing), and sought or held a common package handler position, which itself had commonly applicable, easily identifiable, and easily provable qualification standards, the court said. Moreover, the EEOC is not subject to Rule 23’s requirements.

More about the settlement. The two-year consent decree resolving the case identifies 229 individuals who may receive payment as part of the settlement. It also requires FedEx Ground to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers with access to live and video remote American Sign Language interpreting, captioned videos, and scanning equipment with non-audible cues such as vibration.

FedEx Ground must take steps to protect the safety of deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers as well. Going forward, the company will ensure that all tuggers, forklifts, and similar motorized equipment have visual warning lights, and it will provide personal notification devices to alert deaf package handlers of an emergency. The company will also train managers and HR representatives on ADA compliance and create written resources to assist them in identifying and providing accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers. A FedEx Ground VP will oversee the company’s implementation of the consent decree and reporting to the EEOC.

The EEOC’s lawsuit was litigated in the Western District of Pennsylvania; the case is No. 15-cv-00256.

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