Deaf Former FedEx Package Handler Wins ADA Award Appeal

January 25, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.COM) - A federal appellate court has upheld a $108,000 jury award to a deaf former FedEx package handler who did not receive proper accommodations for his disability according to federal law.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that based on the evidence produced at the trial of Ronald Lockhart’s suit against the package delivery giant alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “ the jury was thus entitled to find that FedEx higher management officials had acted reprehensibly with respect to Lockhart’s need for ADA accommodations. ” Lockhart was awarded $8,000 in compensatory damages and a $100,000 punitive damage total.

The 4 th  Circuit turned aside FedEx’s contentions that the punitive damages were too high and that its managers had put forward a good-faith effort to comply with the federal law.   

Writing for the court, Circuit Judge Robert King said FedEx was accused of ADA violations for not providing Lockhart a sign-language interpreter at employee meetings and training sessions including sessions after September 11, 2001, about stepped-up security measures and potential anthrax exposure. Lockhart worked at the FedEx facility at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The appellate judges upheld a lower court ruling by U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

“Although Lockhart suffered no physical harm from the actions complained of, his supervisors at FedEx were plainly indifferent to the fact that their failure to accommodate his disability could jeopardize his safety, and potentially implicate the safety of others,” King wrote.”Because Lockhart was denied the ADA accommodations necessary for him to understand and participate in employee meetings and training sessions, he consistently missed updates about important subjects such as workplace safety, handling dangerous goods, interpreting hazardous labels, and potential anthrax exposure. Finally, Lockhart’s supervisors were familiar with the mandate of the ADA and perceived the risk that their conduct was unlawful.”

FedEx spokeswoman Sandra Munoz told the Legal Times the company disagrees with the punitive damages ruling and is considering its options for further appeals.

The 4th Circuit ruling is here .