Late Friday, a Santa Clara County jury awarded $2 million to Younes Mchaar, a deaf, low-wage, former FedEx Ground part-time package handler who was repeatedly denied reasonable accommodations and the interactive process at the company’s San Jose facility.
The jury verdict also found that FedEx failed to prevent this discrimination against him despite FedEx Ground having previously been sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of deaf package handlers nationwide.
According to a press release by his attorneys, Mr. Mchaar, who has been deaf since birth, began working at FedEx Ground in 2011 as a part-time package handler in Virginia.
Mchaar alleged in his lawsuit, filed in 2020, that after FedEx in Virginia denied him promotions and proper interpretive services from 2011 to 2017, he moved to the San Jose position – anxious, stressed and frustrated but seeking a better workplace and higher pay.
Mr. Mchaar transferred to the company’s San Jose, California facility in April 2017, anticipating reasonable accommodations to assist in routine communications. But it took until December 2017 for the company to arrange a meeting with him about reasonable accommodations.
At that point, FedEx agreed to provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for all safety meetings and Video Remote Interpreting VRI for daily meetings. Nonetheless, the ASL interpreters were often not present at safety meetings, and the VRI did not even arrive at the facility until June 2018 – after which, it was glitchy.
He also discovered that just as in Virginia, “FedEx promoted and assigned important projects to less-qualified, non-deaf employees,” according to his lawsuit.
After Mr. Mchaar vigorously complained about denied reasonable accommodations, he was written up 10 times in 2 ½ months and proposed for termination, at which point he resigned.
According Mercury News, FedEx said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it disagreed with the verdict and was reviewing its options for an appeal. The firm said it “remains committed to the fair and equal treatment of all team members, including our employees who are deaf and hard of hearing, for whom we strive to provide every opportunity for success.”
Throughout Mchaar’s employment in San Jose, the package-delivery titan had been fighting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in federal court over its treatment of deaf package handlers.
“Shipping giant FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., (FedEx Ground) violated federal law nationwide by discriminating against a large class of deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers and job applicants for years”, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced.
The EEOC says that FedEx Ground failed to provide needed accommodations such as American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and closed-captioned training videos during the mandatory initial tour of the facilities and new-hire orientation for deaf and hard-of-hearing applicants. The shipping company also failed to provide such accommodations during staff, performance, and safety meetings. Package handlers physically load and unload packages from delivery vehicles, place and reposition packages in FedEx Ground’s conveyor systems, and scan, sort and route packages.
The EEOC charges that, in addition to failing to provide communications-based accommodations for mandatory meetings, FedEx Ground refused to provide needed equipment substitutions and modifications for deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers, such as providing scanners that vibrate instead of beep and installing flashing safety lights on moving equipment.
The EEOC, after a nationwide investigation, sued FedEx in 2014 (No. 2:15-cv-00256 (W.D. Pa. May 18, 2020) ) under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agency alleged the company failed to provide reasonable accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers that would let them perform essential job functions, communicate with managers, and participate in meetings. The agency further alleged that FedEx failed to provide flashing lights for safety on motorized moving equipment.
In 2020, to resolve the nationwide lawsuit, FedEx agreed to pay $3.3 million to up to 229 people, and agreed in a consent decree to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers with live and video American Sign Language interpreting, and scanning equipment with non-audible cues, such as vibration. The company also agreed to put warning lights on motorized equipment such as forklifts.
The company said Tuesday it has fully complied with the terms of the EEOC settlement agreement, which enabled the deal to expire in May 2022.
The lawsuit is Santa County Superior Court Case No. 20CV366270.
In this case, plaintiffs are Ventura County, California firefighters and law enforcement officers who (except for one plaintiff) are members of two unions, the Ventura County