Younes Mchaar transferred from his FedEx package-handler job in Virginia to a similar position in San Jose, hoping to leave behind the disability discrimination he experienced at work as a deaf person. Instead, he found more of the same, and worse: Managers mocked him, yelled at him, and one even spit on him, Mchaar claimed in a lawsuit against FedEx that earlier this month led a jury to award him $2 million.
Mchaar alleged in his lawsuit, filed in 2020, that after FedEx in Virginia denied him promotions and proper interpretive services from 2011 to 2017, he moved to the San Jose position — anxious, stressed and frustrated but seeking a better workplace and higher pay.
But he found that just as in Virginia, “FedEx promoted and assigned important projects to less-qualified, non-deaf employees,” according to his lawsuit.
And managers, Mchaar claimed, delivered abuse and harassment, one of them repeatedly yelling at him and another deaf worker, and demanding they stop communicating with each other in sign language.
While FedEx provided safety-hazard sirens around heavy equipment to protect non-deaf workers, the company, headquartered in Memphis, refused to provide safety-hazard lights to protect deaf employees in San Jose, Mchaar alleged.
FedEx refused to regularly provide him with an American Sign Language interpreter for monthly safety meetings, and the video-based interpretation for daily staff meetings did not arrive for more than a year after he started, and was glitchy, according to the lawsuit and a statement from Mchaar’s lawyers.
At several meetings, a manager screamed at Mchaar and waved papers in his face as if he was “stupid or mentally incapable of comprehension,” the lawsuit claimed. When a manager spit on him, Mchaar made a report to the company, but no action was taken, according to the lawsuit. His complaints to human resources staff about discrimination and harassment did not result in adequate corrective measures, Mchaar alleged.
To the contrary, FedEx responded to Mchaar’s complaints by writing him up 10 times and proposing his termination, “at which point he resigned” in December 2018, according to a statement by his lawyers.
FedEx in a December court filing claimed Mchaar had tried to “mislead this Court with self-serving half-truths, blatant intentional fabrication of ‘facts,’ and unsupported evidentiary statements.”
The jury apparently disagreed, and on May 12 awarded him $2 million for back pay and emotional distress. Mchaar had claimed more than $200,000 in lost earnings, and unspecified damages for fallout, including emotional distress.
One of Mchaar’s lawyers, Oakland attorney Bryan Schwartz, said, “FedEx knew that it had a problem with failing to accommodate deaf workers, and yet, once again failed, despite Mr. Mchaar begging repeatedly for support so he could be a fully participating member of the workplace.”
FedEx said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it disagreed with the verdict and was reviewing its options for an appeal. The firm said it “remains committed to the fair and equal treatment of all team members, including our employees who are deaf and hard of hearing, for whom we strive to provide every opportunity for success.”
Throughout Mchaar’s employment in San Jose, the package-delivery titan had been fighting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in federal court over its treatment of deaf package handlers. The EEOC, after a nationwide investigation, sued FedEx in 2014 under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agency alleged the company failed to provide reasonable accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers that would let them perform essential job functions, communicate with managers, and participate in meetings. The agency further alleged that FedEx failed to provide flashing lights for safety on motorized moving equipment.
In 2020, to resolve the lawsuit, FedEx agreed to pay $3.3 million to up to 229 people, and to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing package handlers with live and video American Sign Language interpreting, and scanning equipment with non-audible cues such as vibration. The company also agreed to put warning lights on motorized equipment such as forklifts.
The company said Tuesday it has fully complied with the terms of the EEOC settlement agreement, which enabled the deal to expire in May 2022.