Top Ten Issues In Employment Law For HR Professionals In Virginia in 2008: #4
Published by Eric A. Welter on January 19, 2009
We will be posting over the next week the top ten developments in employment law for HR professionals in Virginia in 2008. The list is in no particular order. Topic number 4 is: Employer Not Participating In Interactive Process Is Not Acting In Good Faith. More after the break. In EEOC v. Federal Express, an employer’s […]
We will be posting over the next week the top ten developments in employment law for HR professionals in Virginia in 2008. The list is in no particular order. Topic number 4 is:
Employer Not Participating In Interactive Process Is Not Acting In Good Faith. More after the break.
In EEOC v. Federal Express, an employer’s repeated denial of a deaf employee’s requests for a sign language interpreter during employee meetings and training sessions resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the employee. The EEOC sued FedEx on behalf of Ronald Lockhart, a deaf package handler who was fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). Lockhart requested an interpreter on many occasions so that he could understand the content of meetings such as his initial interview, employee meetings and training. (Lockhart had to bring a friend with him to translate during the initial interview). During the plaintiff’s three years of employment, FedEx repeatedly denied his request for a sign language interpreter for training sessions. Lockhart also had poor written English skills, but his supervisor communicated with him exclusively through written notes on stray pieces of paper and had other employees take his written tests for him. Lockhart filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, claiming the company had denied him a reasonable accommodation for his disability, and was terminated soon thereafter for “deficient attendance.” A retaliation claim was therefore added.
A jury awarded $8,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitives. FedEx appealed the punitive award, claiming the evidence was insufficient and the damages were excessive. The 4th Circuit upheld the verdict, noting that the company repeatedly refused to accommodate the plaintiff’s disability, putting him in vulnerable and potentially dangerous situations by not allowing him to fully participate in 24 training sessions. “FedEx’s continuing failure and refusal to provide ADA accommodations for [the plaintiff’s] deafness disability did not result from isolated incidents,” the court said.” On the evidence, the jury was entitled to find that FedEx failed to sufficiently take affirmative steps to ensure the implementation of its ADA compliance policy with respect to [the plaintiff].” The court found that FedEx’s delay in the interactive process was not in good faith.
This case is a good reminder that employer’s bear the burden of participating in the “interactive process” with employees regarding potential accommodations under the ADA.Topics: ADA, HR, Virginia