Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Firing of deaf employee costs Costco a Costco-sized verdict

I've thought a lot of things walking through Costco.

Why aren't the free samples out yet?

What the heck am I going to do with 10 pounds of cheese, but damn that's a good price?

How did I just manage to spend $250?

The one thing I've never thought?

It's so loud in here; I wish the employees would speak more quietly.

Then again, I've never been in the Costco in Pompano Beach, Florida.

That's where Christine D’Onofrio worked for 24 years, until she was fired for speaking too loudly.

Her excuse? She's deaf, and couldn't self-regulate the volume of her own voice.

According to the Sun Sentintel, the store provided her a video phone to help her communicate. She alleged that after managers complained that she was yelling into the device, she was written up for being too loud. She responded by sending a letter to Costco's CEO. Shortly thereafter, she says, the store suspended her for a week, and then fired her.

For its part, Costco argued that D’Onofrio had a history of discipline "for serious misconduct and insubordination."

It also argued that if any unlawful activity occurred, it "was outside the scope of that individual's employment, was not authorized or condoned by Defendant, and was undertaken without the knowledge or consent of Defendant." (P.S. That's not a defense to a discrimination claim.)

The jury awarded D’Onofrio $750,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish caused by the denial of reasonable accommodations, and $25,000 for punitive damages.

Employers, listen to (and don't punish) your disabled employees when they ask for reasonable accommodations. The alternative could prove quite costly.