Nebraska-based Werner Enterprises must pay $335,682 in a disability discrimination case involving a deaf truck driver. A jury verdict had earlier awarded $36 million in punitive damages and $75,000 in compensatory damages to the driver, but federal law limits punitive damages to $300,000 in employment discrimination cases.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2018 filed suit against Werner and Drivers Management LLC under the Americans with Disabilities Act after the truckload carrier refused to hire Victor Robinson, a licensed, qualified truck driver, in 2016.
According to the EEOC, Robinson applied to work at Werner after completing training at Roadmaster, a Werner-owned truck driving school, and obtaining his commercial driver’s license.
Robinson had obtained an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from its hearing regulation for the operation of a commercial motor vehicle.
According to the EEOC, after Robinson applied, Werner’s vice president of safety told Robinson that the company would not hire him because he could not hear. The vice president of safety testified at trial that Werner continues to deny employment opportunities to new deaf drivers, according to the EEOC.
Violating Americans with Disabilities Act
The EEOC filed its suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. Last September, a Nebraska jury found that the truckload carriers failed to hire and failed to make reasonable accommodation to accommodate Robinson's disability.
In a judgment entered Jan. 11, a judge found that Werner intentionally discriminated against Robinson in violation of the ADA. The judgment reduced the jury’s verdict to $300,000, as required by federal law limiting damages in employment discrimination cases. The judge also awarded Robinson $35,682 in lost wages. Werner will be required to pay pre-judgment interest on the wages.
The court also ordered the companies to submit semi-annual reports to the EEOC for the next three years with information about deaf truck driver applicants and new hires.
“By ordering Werner to submit information about deaf truck driver applicants and new hires to the EEOC for the next three years, the court is enabling the agency to monitor the company’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensure equal employment opportunity for deaf truck drivers,” said Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for the EEOC’s St. Louis District, in a news release.
When the EEOC announced the lawsuit in 2018, Baran said this was the second lawsuit filed that year against Werner regarding “a qualified deaf applicant who the company refused to hire simply because he was deaf,” Baran said at the time. "Employers must realize they cannot deny employment to qualified applicants based on unfounded, negative stereotypes about deaf workers."