ST. LOUIS — An eight-person jury in Omaha, Nebraska, returned a verdict of $36,075,000 in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on disability discrimination claims against Drivers Management LLC and Werner Enterprises Inc., the federal agency announced on Friday, Sept. 1.
The jury awarded Victor Robinson $75,000 in compensatory damage and $36 million in punitive damages after deliberating for less than two hours following a four-day trial, finding that Drivers Management and Werner’s conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to a news release.
“Victor Robinson had the courage to step forward and say what happened to him was wrong,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “The jury agreed, and their substantial verdict sends a clear message to employers everywhere that our nation will not tolerate disability discrimination,”
The jury found that the truckload carriers failed to hire and failed to accommodate Robinson, who is deaf, for a truck driving job in 2016.
The EEOC presented evidence that Robinson applied to work at Werner after completing training at Roadmaster, a Werner-owned truck driving school, and obtaining his commercial driver’s license, the news release noted.
Robinson also obtained from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) an exemption from the hearing regulation for the operation of a commercial motor vehicle. After he 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 news release.
“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. “Like everyone else, Deaf people deserve a fair chance to make a living and to support themselves and their families,” added St. Louis District Director David Davis.
According to its website, Werner maintains offices in the United States, Canada, Mexico, China and Australia and is among the five largest truckload carriers in the United States. Its wholly-owned subsidiary company, Drivers Management, employs, trains and manages drivers.
“Werner’s refusal to acknowledge Mr. Robinson’s abilities hurt not only him, but the entire deaf community,” said EEOC’s trial team, supervisory trial attorney Joshua M. Pierson and trial attorneys Meredith S. Berwick and Lauren Wilson. “As this verdict demonstrates, companies like Werner that deny reasonable accommodations to drivers with disabilities do so at their peril.”
The EEOC filed its lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska (EEOC v. Drivers Management, LLC and Werner Enterprises, Inc., Case No. 8:18-cv-00462) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC’s St. Louis District Office oversees Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and a portion of southern Illinois.
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