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April 10, 2003

Trial begins in bias case brought by deaf UPS employees

From: Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Apr 10, 2003

Company denies promotions and training with held

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - When Eric Bates was promoted from working the loading docks to being a delivery driver at United Parcel Service Inc., he suspected his lawsuit was much of the reason.

Bates, who is 30 and nearly deaf, contends that the nation's fourth-largest private employer rampantly discriminates against the hearing impaired in violation of federal laws. Company attorneys deny the allegations.

Bates obtained a Department of Transportation certification to drive a delivery truck of more than 10,000 pounds. But UPS, he said, "told me to wait and they ignored me."

He sued, and his case has mushroomed into class-action litigation. On Tuesday, a trial began for more than 900 current and former employees nationwide claiming they were either passed over for promotions or given inadequate training and safety instructions because they were hearing impaired.

UPS attorney Christopher Martin said the allegations are "hyperbole" and said the judge should not believe the accusations are representative of company policy.

There is no jury in the case, which is expected to last months and includes a sign-language interpreter capturing the trial for deaf plaintiffs in attendance.

"There may have been an instance when something wasn't perfect," Martin said. "That's going to happen in a big company."

Atlanta-based UPS employs 320,000 workers nationwide.

Larry Paradis, an attorney for Disability Rights Advocates in Oakland, Calif., said hearing-impaired UPS employees are "systematically marginalized." He said they are not provided sign-language interpreters during emergency and workplace training and seldom are promoted to delivery driving or supervisory jobs.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also are attacking the UPS policy of denying hearing-impaired workers jobs operating delivery trucks weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

Federal rules require that trucks exceeding 10,000 pounds be operated by people certiified as meeting certain vision and hearing requirements. But the government leaves it up to companies to decide which drivers are qualified to operate lighter vehicles.

"Every morning, when I wake up and put on my brown uniform, I'm proud that I can drive because I thought that it might never happen," Bates said in an interview via a sign-language interpreter.

Martin told the judge that the company's policy is "consistent with business necessities and therefore not unlawful." He said the "bread and butter of UPS is prompt and efficient service."

The U.S. Postal Service and Federal Express allow some deaf drivers to operate delivery vehicles that weigh less than 10,000 pounds.

Copyright 2002 The Courier-Journal.