Thursday, September 7, 2023

Can you hear me now?! Jury awards deaf truck driver $36M in disability discrimination lawsuit

$36 million is a number large enough to get anyone's attention. It certainly got the attention of Drivers Management, LLC and Werner Enterprises, Inc., after a federal jury awarded the EEOC that amount in a disability discrimination lawsuit it filed on behalf of Victor Robinson, a deaf truck driver, denied employment because of his disability.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, the companies told Robinson that they could not hire him as a truck driver because he was deaf, even though he had graduated from truck driving school, received his commercial driver license, and obtained an exemption from the hearing regulation for the operation of a commercial motor vehicle from the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Testimony also established that the companies continue to this day their policy of not hiring deaf truck drivers.

Based on those facts, the jury unanimously awarded Robinson $75,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $36M in punitive damages. Robinson will never collect that staggering amount, as the ADA caps an award of punitive damages at a maximum of $300,000. Nevertheless, the size of that number will get everyone's attention.

"The jury heard the evidence and called Werner's conduct what it was – unacceptable," said Andrea G. Baran, regional attorney for EEOC's St. Louis District. "As this verdict demonstrates," added Supervisory Trial Attorney Joshua M. Pierson, "companies like Werner that deny reasonable accommodations to drivers with disabilities do so at their peril."