Did FedEx Discriminate Against Deaf Employees and Job Applicants?

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.

EEOC v FedEx Ground

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:

  • Closed captioning on mandatory training videos;
  • American Sign Language (ASL) translators for meetings and new-hire orientations;
  • Scanners that vibrate instead of beep;
  • Flashing lights on moving equipment.

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.

What Counts as Discrimination Against Deaf Employees?

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.

How Can a Deaf FedEx Employee Get Involved?

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 if you fall into any of these categories:

  • You are deaf or hard-of-hearing and applied for a Package Handler position at FedEx Ground any time since July 2007, and you believe you were discriminated against or not given reasonable accommodations (like ASL interpreting).
  • You are deaf or hard-of-hearing and worked as a Package Handler position at FedEx Ground any time since December 2006, and you believe you were discriminated against or not given reasonable accommodations.
  • You have any information about any of these claims.

View the ASL video about the FedEx lawsuit.

FedEx Discrimination Case

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.

How Can I Fight Deaf Discrimination at My Workplace?

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 Certi
fied Deaf Interpreters (CDI) whenever necessary. If you have faced discrimination at work because of your disability, contact us for a free consultation.

Discrimination Against Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees at Work

Eisenberg & Baum is proud to be a national leader in providing legal services to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. We’ve built a legal team, including a CODA attorney fluent in sign language and a deaf client liaison, who are committed to the legal issues faced by people with hearing loss​, including employment discrimination. We know employees who are deaf or hard of hearing can face unique challenges in their workplace, from issues as simple as not being able to fully participate in team meetings to outright harassment. Unfortunately, discrimination against employees with hearing loss is all too common. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, though, you do not have to put up with discrimination in the workplace. Both federal and state laws protect workers from discrimination based on a disability, which can include deafness and hearing loss. In this post, we will discuss the types of discrimination employees who are deaf or hard of hearing can face at work and the protections they have under the law.

Protections Against Deaf Discrimination

To know what constitutes discrimination against deaf employees, you have to look at the laws that prohibit such discrimination. Protections against deaf discrimination can be found at all levels of law, from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) down to various state and local laws like New York State’s Human Rights Law and the New York City Administrative Code. Who is protected and what constitutes discrimination is dependent upon the language of the law. For our purposes, we’ll look specifically at the ADA and how its anti-discrimination provisions apply to workers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Discrimination claims under the ADA generally have to meet three criteria:

  1. the employee must have a “disability” as the ADA defines it,
  2. the employee must have been qualified to perform their essential job functions, and
  3. the employee must have suffered an adverse employment action because of their disability.

What is a Disability Under the ADA?

A “disability” under the current version of the ADA means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, a record of such an impairment in the past, or even the perception by an employer that an individual has such an impairment. Hearing certainly qualifies as a “major life activity,” so deafness or significant hearing loss can meet the definition of a disability under the ADA. You’ll also note that having a past record of deafness or hearing loss could qualify as a disability even if your hearing has since been restored. Finally, if your employer perceived that you had substantial limit to your hearing ability, regardless of whether that was actually the case, the employer’s perception can be enough to meet the disability requirement under the ADA.

Ability to Carry Out Essential Job Functions

Another key element of showing you’ve been discriminated against on the basis of a disability is demonstrating that you are qualified to carry out the essential functions of your job. In other words, the law won’t protect your job if you were unqualified to perform the job’s key functions in the first place. In determining whether a person is qualified, though, courts will look at whether a reasonable accommodation by an employer, such as assistive listening devices or a sign language interpreter, would have made a difference. Also, note that the law is only concerned with essential job functions, not additional duties you may have been asked to perform that weren’t necessarily part of your core job.

What Is an Adverse Employment Action Under the ADA?

The final aspect of a discrimination claim under the ADA is showing that your employer took some adverse employment action against you as a result of your deafness. The action can come at any stage of the employment relationship, starting with pre-employment decisions on hiring all the way through to your separation. The types of adverse actions taken by your employer could include the company’s refusing to hire you, passing you over for promotion or a raise, declining a requested job transfer, disciplining you, or firing you based on your deafness or hearing loss.

You might also be subject to harassment in the workplace from co-workers, supervisors, or even customers or contractors. Harassment could come in the form of insults or jokes about your hearing, derogatory emails, even physical confrontations. When the harassment reaches a level that it creates a hostile work environment in which you are no longer able to perform the core functions of your job, the harassment effectively becomes an adverse employment action.

Retaliation Against or Sexual Harassment of Deaf Employees

Employees who are hard of hearing or deaf are not immune to and may in fact be targeted for other forms of discrimination in the workplace, like retaliation or sexual harassment. The ADA protects workers from retaliation by their employer when they report an instance of alleged discrimination. So, for example, if you complain to your employer about harassment you’ve been receiving because you are deaf and your employer in turn decides to fire you for complaining about your co-workers, you will have an additional retaliation claim against your employer that is not dependent on your proving you have a disability under the ADA. Similarly, employees cannot be retaliated against for requesting a special accommodation under the ADA.

Sexual harassment is also a common form of discrimination in the workplace that deaf employees can be subjected to. As we’ve discussed in separate posts, sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination consisting of unwelcome sexual conduct that either creates a hostile work environment or is used a basis for employment decisions. Sexual harassment can come from anywhere in the workplace, and can be in the form of unwanted jokes, innuendos, pictures or touching. People who commit sexual harassment in the workplace may seek to take advantage of employees who they believe are vulnerable because of their gender, age, position, or in the case of the deaf and hard of hearing, disability. In reality, all employees enjoy the same protections under the law, and no one has to put up with sexual harassment in the workplace.

What Do I Do If I Am Being Discriminated Against Because I am Deaf?

American Sign Language AttorneyIf you’re being discriminated against because you are deaf or hard of hearing, we recommend you contact a lawyer immediately. At Eisenberg & Baum, not only d
o we have experience handling legal issues for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, we provide a deaf-friendly environment so when you work with our team, you can rest assured that there will be no barriers to communication. Our team in the Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing includes a CODA attorney fluent in sign language and a dedicated deaf liaison. To understand what our team can do for you, contact us for a free initial consultation. You may also directly contact deaf rights attorney Andrew Rozynski or deaf client liaison Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski.

How does a hostile workplace attorney prove fault?

Hostile-workplace-150x150You may think that if you don’t have direct proof of hostile workplace, like a photograph or a video or an audio recording or a witness, then a lawyer won’t take your case because he won’t be able to prove it. But that’s not correct. Most sexual harassment cases lack direct proof, but it is still possible to win significant money damages from the employer.


The most important evidence a hostile workplace victim can give is her (or his) own testimony.  What this means is that from the first moment you make your complaint and tell your story, you must tell the truth. You must not change or shade facts because you think they might undermine your credibility. What undermines your credibility is getting caught in a lie.  After that happens, nobody will believe you no matter what you say. An experienced lawyer can help you present your case and explain any difficult points to the fact finder, but a lawyer can’t help you unless you tell the truth. Ultimately if you are a credible witness you can win your case even if you have no other proof.

Circumstantial Evidence

If you are being mistreated at work based on your race, gender, age or disability in a way that you find intolerable, you can keep a diary in which you write down all the dates and times and details of what happens to you.  One of the most important factors in your credibility is if you can provide very specific details about what, when and where it happened to you, so that the details you give can be checked and verified.  A diary can help you do that.  You can also write down how your feelings change because of the harassment, and changes that happen in your life (like changes in eating or sleeping patterns, or changes in behavior towards others).  People around you should be able to verify these changes.  You can consult a medical doctor or psychologist or counselor to talk about what is happening to you, and you can talk to friends and family about it. All of these things are circumstantial evidence that you may be able to use to prove your case.

Other Victims

Those who abuse others on the basis of race, gender, age or disability often have many victims, not just you.  You should find out whether other people in your workplace, current or past employees, may have been victims of similar treatment.  If so, your attorney may be able to identify patterns of conduct that you can use to prove your case, or such evidence may be helpful in supporting a case for punitive damages.