As if to remind employers of the national priorities identified in its strategic enforcement plan, on October 10, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it has filed suit against FedEx Ground for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). EEOC v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc. (D. Md. 2014). After receiving 19 separate ADA discrimination charges throughout the country by deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, the EEOC consolidated the charges and conducted a nationwide systemic investigation into the alleged violations. The investigation resulted in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that FedEx Ground failed to provide needed accommodations such as American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and closed-captioned training videos for deaf and hard-of-hearing applicants. It also alleges the company failed to provide such accommodations during staff, performance, and safety meetings.
Taking the EEOC’s allegations as true (and admittedly reading between the lines), it appears that a breakdown in essential ADA-related communication occurred between management for the disabled employees and the company’s HR department. It seems middle management knew of the disabilities and observed the disability impairing the performance of essential functions, but failed to communicate this to HR for further inquiry and action.
This is why employers should take notice of this case. Employers must ensure their management is trained to understand when the ADA is invoked and if so, what it requires them to do. Further, it is essential that managers are trained and held accountable to communicate potential ADA concerns with HR. In managing potential ADA liability, properly trained management is low hanging fruit. It should be “picked” first.