EEOC Sues FedEx for Discriminating Against Dozens of Deaf and Hearing Impaired Package Handlers

Consolidating 19 individual cases that have been filed nationwide, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission initiated the lawsuit EEOC v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. on September 30, 2014, on behalf of “a significant number” of deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and job applicants. The charging parties allege that the company has consistently and intentionally failed to provide reasonable accommodations to these employees, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

In its complaint, the Commission argues that FedEx has failed to provide accommodations to hearing impaired Package Handlers “at all points in the employment life cycle,” which includes (i) failing to provide communications-based accommodations such as American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation during new employee orientation, training, and mandatory meetings, (ii) ignoring multiple requests for such accommodation, (iii) failing to provide modified equipment such as vibrating scanners to enable hearing impaired employees to meet production quotas with the same level of effort as their co-workers, (iv) adding flashing lights to moving equipment for safety, and (vi) failing to initiate an interactive process regarding the need for these kinds of accommodations.

The ADA’s implications for this situation seem clear: the company must “engage in good faith in an interactive process to identify effective reasonable accommodations” and then provide such accommodations unless it can show that doing so would not be an “undue hardship.” After studying nineteen different facilities, the Commission concluded that FedEx has “engaged in widespread abandonment of its legal duties to engage in good faith in the interactive process with deaf and hard-of-hearing Package Handlers and deaf and hard-of-hearing applicants to the Package Handler Position and to provide effective reasonable accommodation to these individuals.” Despite numerous complaints by hearing impaired Package Handlers, and despite they allege, the company has also failed to engage these employees in an interactive process. Thirty-two examples of such failures are cited in the complaint itself.

To cite just one typical example: Miriam Franson was terminated from her employment in Portland, Oregon for productivity issues. In a written complaint to FedEx, she challenged her termination for productivity and accuracy issues, explaining that her inability to rely on the scanner’s audible “beeps” caused her to be slower and more error-prone.

EEOC Philadelphia District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr. said they filed this lawsuit “to remedy alleged pervasive violations of the ADA on a national level.” Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added: “Common sense, let alone federal legal requirements, would dictate that FedEx Ground should have provided effective accommodations to enable people with hearing difficulties to obtain workplace information that is disseminated in meetings and in training sessions. EEOC contends that by failing to do so, FedEx Ground has marginalized disabled workers and hindered job performance. This is a lose/lose scenario.”

If you are an employee and you believe your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been violated, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.