AKW Law Wins $6.8M Verdict for Disability Discrimination Case in Federal Court
FedEx Freight Inc. must pay more than $6.85 million to a former employee who was forced out of the company because of his disability. A federal district court jury found FedEx refused to let the employee work because he spoke up against disability discrimination. He protested the company’s rejection of its medical examiner’s opinion that he was physically qualified to drive despite a knee condition. The case is believed to be one of the first jury trials conducted entirely via Zoom, the videoconferencing platform. Federal courts have been shuttered since March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Plaintiff was represented by attorneys Ada K. Wong and Jordan T. Wada of AKW LAW, P.C. and Beth Bloom of Bloom Law, PLLC. Plaintiff Dave Goldstine worked as a long-distance truck driver with FedEx Freight based in Everett, Washington. When he revealed knee limitations arising from a series of knee surgeries, the company removed him from driving pending a medical evaluation. But when the medical examiner found Goldstine safe to drive, FedEx would not return him to work. Witnesses testified the company was concerned by Goldstine’s vocal opposition to disability discrimination including a request to bring in a lawyer to negotiate his return. After more than 100 days without pay or response from FedEx, Goldstine found other work and did not return.
Witnesses testified FedEx managers jumped to conclusions about Goldstine’s limitations and refused to accept his repeated statements that his knee condition did not prevent him from working. FedEx argued its treatment of Goldstine was no different than any other employee. The jury disagreed.
State and federal disability laws require employers to let disabled employees work when they can safely do the job. The Department of Transportation regulates the physical qualifications for truck drivers but leaves medical decisions to the discretion of approved medical examiners.
As a result of being forced out of a job, Goldstine lost his income and his health insurance. Then a cancer diagnosis in September 2019 delayed necessary treatment because he could not afford care. The jury deliberated for about 2.5 days before reaching a unanimous verdict.
On November 16, 2020, the jury awarded $101,743 in economic damages and $1,750,000 in compensatory damages. In addition, the jury directed FedEx to pay $5,000,000 in punitive damages.
Lead counsel Ada K. Wong said, “What FedEx Freight did to Mr. Goldstine was awful. They kept him out of work because of assumptions and fears about his impairment. The jury sent a loud message today that even the rich and powerful cannot get away with breaking disability laws.”
“I am relieved that the jury heard my case and enforced the law,” Goldstine said. “I brought this lawsuit because I want everyone to know that disabled employees are worthy of the same opportunities to work. My knee condition has slowed me down but it has never kept me from working as a truck driver,” he added. “All I wanted was a fair chance to prove myself.”
“The verdict is a tremendous victory for our community and for our client who courageously refused to be treated as less deserving because of his physical limitations,” said Bloom.
The trial team expressed appreciation for the careful consideration of the jurors who stayed committed to the 8-day trial conducted by the United States District Court for Western District of Washington in Seattle.
This is not the first rebuke of FedEx’s treatment of disabled workers. FedEx Ground agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle another disability discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this year.