Deaf Employees File Lawsuit Against UPS

Originally appeared in Silent News, March 2001.

A group of employees have filed a class-action lawsuit against the United Parcel Services (UPS), citing discrimination and failure to provide reasonable accommodations.

The group, represented by two law firms – Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit law firm, and Schneider, McCormac and Wallace – filed a nationwide class action suit in 1999 (Eric Bates et al. versus UPS C 99-2216) on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing employees and job applicants.

Alison Aubry, staff attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, said, “The case mainly focuses on UPS’ failure to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that deaf employees and applicants receive the accommodations they need, such as interpreters for interviews, trainings and meetings; captioned training videos… The case also challenges UPS’ exclusion of deaf employees from all driver positions within the company, as well as failure to promote deaf employees to supervisor positions.”

Although there are some known deaf drivers for UPS such as Paul Penner of Illinois, there are restrictions imposed by the federal Department of Transportation.

Aubry said, “The Department of Transportation regulates all vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, and in order to drive those vehicles, a person must pass a DOT physical which includes a hearing test. Most deaf individuals cannot pass that test. However, DOT does not regulate vehicles that weigh 10,000 pounds and less, and so theoretically deaf individuals could drive those UPS vehicles that weigh 10,000 pounds and less. However, UPS also applies the DOT hearing test to those lighter vehicles, therefore excluding deaf employees.”

The main plantiffs involved are Eric Bates, a current UPS employee, and Bert Enos, a former employee. Both worked at the UPS facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Both, according to Aubry, have been repeatedly denied accommodations in the workplace, namely provision of interpreters for events such as meetings and trainings.

“The plantiffs are also concerned about the lack of emergency flashing lights in most UPS facilities. Currently, in the event of an emergency, there is no system for alerting deaf employees that they must evacuate,” Aubry explained. “Several employees have been caught in emergencies and did not know what was happening until much later.”

The individuals and their legal representatives involved are seeking simple resolution. “[We] would like to see UPS institute policies and procedures to make sure that the needs of deaf employees and job applicants are addressed and that these individuals are provided with the proper accommodations,” Aubry said.

UPS, however, has challenged the lawsuit vigorously, according to Aubry.

The case is scheduled for trial in early 2002.

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