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July 22, 2003

UPS to pay millions to deaf workers

From: San Jose Mercury News, CA - Jul 22, 2003


By Sandra Gonzales
Mercury News

In a major victory for disabled workers, the United Parcel Service will pay $5.8 million and make changes in the workplace to accommodate deaf employees to settle a class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in 1999 by Disability Rights Advocates, a non-profit organization based in Oakland, on behalf of five deaf UPS workers. It was amended in 2001 to include more than 1,000 deaf employees. The suit charged that UPS denied deaf people equal rights in the workplace by failing to provide sign language interpreters, necessary communication aids, emergency alerts, text telephones and promotion opportunities.

Under terms of the settlement announced Monday, UPS, which had already begun to make some of these changes, will continue to implement them and be subjected to outside monitoring and enforcement by the courts.

Disability Rights Advocates officials said it is the first workplace employment class action brought on behalf of deaf workers and one of the largest amounts ever paid in such a lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

UPS also will pay $4.1 million for attorney fees, costs and expenses. Each of the five named plaintiffs will receive $60,000, and the others in the class-action suit will receive a monetary amount based on such factors as their length of employment and the level of discrimination suffered.

''This is a proud day in the disability rights movement,'' said Caroline Jacobs, a Disability Rights Advocates lawyer in the case. ''With this settlement, deaf people have achieved a precedent-setting victory establishing their right to equality in the workplace. We hope that this settlement sends a message to all employers throughout the country that employees with disabilities are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as other employees in the workplace.''

UPS, which has 360,000 employees worldwide, denied any discrimination against the deaf.

''We have a long and strong record for providing accommodations for and promoting deaf and hard-of-hearing employees. The measures called for in the settlement will only enhance one of the most inclusive working environments in corporate America today,'' said Peggy Gardener, a spokeswoman for UPS.

Under the settlement, deaf employees also will be assigned a human resources employee to meet with them every four months. Employees also will be given a vibrating pager to alert them of emergency circumstances. In the past, deaf employees were assigned a co-worker who was to alert them in the event of any emergency.

''This has been a hard-fought battle to get UPS to recognize that deaf people have the right to equal treatment and opportunities,'' said Bert Enos of San Jose, one of the five named plaintiffs in the case, in a statement. ''I am pleased that this giant company has now committed itself to correcting the many barriers that I and other deaf people throughout the country have faced in the workplace.''

The settlement was reached in the midst of a trial in San Francisco federal court that began in April. There is still an ongoing trial in the case on whether deaf employees should be excluded from driving UPS vehicles.

Speaking through a sign language interpreter at an Oakland news conference announcing the settlement, Babaranti Oloyede, another of the plaintiffs, said he was denied promotions and, despite repeated requests, was not provided with interpreters for many of the trainings and workplace meetings. For example, when employees received training about anthrax two years ago, he did not have an interpreter.

''I suffered for all those years,'' said Oloyede, who has worked at UPS for more than 10 years. ''I'm hoping that in the future, deaf people will not feel like second-class citizens but will feel that they have equal opportunities with their hearing co-workers. . . . Our reason for filing was to stop the suffering.''

© 2003 Mercury News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.