If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, it can sometimes be hard to get your employer to address your needs. Lack of reasonable accommodations can make your work life miserable, and make it harder for you to do your job. Is that what happened at FedEx Ground? Did FedEx discriminate against deaf employees and job applicants? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) believes it did, and it is going to court to prove it.
In today's blog post, I will discuss the EEOC's lawsuit against FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. I'll cover what the case is about, how you can get involved if you are a deaf or hearing disabled FedEx employee, and how you can connect with a deaf-friendly law firm that's ready to take on big businesses in favor of disabled employees.
The EEOC has filed a lawsuit against FedEx Ground based on 19 separate charges of discrimination against deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and job applicants. Those employees are package handlers hired to physically load and unload packages from delivery vehicles and conveyor systems. They also scan, sort, and route packages to their destinations.
The FedEx employees and applicants say that the company discriminated against its deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and applicants by failing to provide communications-based accommodations like:
The EEOC attempted to resolve the matter with FedEx, by eliminating barriers to recruitment, hiring, and employment, but when negotiations failed, the EEOC took FedEx to court. EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. said in a statement:
FedEx Ground failed to engage in an interactive process with deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers and applicants to address their needs and to provide them with reasonable accommodations. That's why we filed this lawsuit — to remedy alleged pervasive violations of the ADA on a national level.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees and potential employees with physical, mental, emotional, and perceived disabilities from discrimination by an employer. A "disability" includes any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, like hearing. Whether a person is presently disabled, has a history of disability, or is perceived as having a disability, that person may still be protected.
For a deaf or hard-of-hearing employee to file an ADA discrimination lawsuit, it must be clear that the person was qualified to do the essential work of his or her job. That requirement is where "reasonable accommodations" come in. For example, a deaf woman may not be able to answer telephone calls. However, she may request a text telephone, voice carry-over telephone, or a captioned telephone, which would allow her to perform the essential work of responding to phone calls. This would be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act unless it was unduly burdensome on the employer.
Before an ADA lawsuit can start, the employer must also have taken some "adverse employment action" against the deaf or hard-of-hearing employee. This could be refusal to hire, failure to promote, firing, or discrimination in shifts, positions, or hours. It could also include harassment, if the behavior is serious enough to create a hostile work environment.
The EEOC claims FedEx has refused to hire deaf and hard-of-hearing applicants. When they are hired, these employees face barriers to completing their work and participating in important workplace functions, like staff meetings and training. It has proposed reasonable accommodations which FedEx appears to have refused. FedEx has a self-reported revenue of $11.6 billion (as of 2014) and a staff of over 65,000 employees. The accommodations requested may cost the company some money, but the EEOC does not believe they would be unduly burdensome. According to EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney maria Luisa Morocco:
The law is clear: Employers have to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing job applicants and employees are afforded equal employment opportunities - which includes the full benefits and privileges of employment, such as being informed of performance expectations and safety requirements.
The EEOC originally filed the lawsuit in October 2014. It included a list of 168 employees and applicants who had been affected. The case is still pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, where earlier this year, District Court Judge Mark R. Hornak denied FedEx's request for dismissal. Now it looks like the case may be headed to trial.
That doesn't mean it is too late to get involved. The EEOC wants to hear from any current or former deaf and hard-of-hearing package handler employees or applicants who believe they have been the target of discrimination. The agency asks that you call (215)-440-2670 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you fall into any of these categories:
Please note this phone number and email are only for FedEx Ground related complaints. Complaints involving another employer should go to an EEOC field office. The employment discrimination attorneys at Eisenberg & Baum can help you file your complaint or lawsuit and preserve your rights.
Deaf discrimination in violation of the ADA can happen anywhere, at any job. If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination in hiring or at your office, the deaf rights lawyers and deaf client liaison at Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing can help. We have a CODA attorney fluent in sign language and a deaf client liaison who are ready to help you get reasonable accommodations and fight back against workplace discrimination. We work hard to make sure our office is deaf-friendly and welcoming, and we are happy to provide ASL interpreters and Certified Deaf Interpreters (CDI) whenever necessary. If you have faced discrimination at work because of your disability, contact us for a free consultation.