Federal judge rules against UPS Freight in ADA lawsuit

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A federal judge in the U.S. Court for the District of Kansas ruled against UPS Freight in an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit late last month.

The judgement pertained to a company policy that resulted in drivers who must temporarily move into non-driving roles for medical reasons being paid less than drivers making the same move for non-medical reasons, according to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission press release.

The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of Thomas Diebold in August 2017. Diebold worked for UPS Freight from 2003 to 2015. When Diebold suffered a stroke in 2013, he transitioned into a non-driving role, according to court documents.

According to the UPS policy in question, disabled drivers, like Diebold, performing non-driving work were only paid 90 percent of what their able-bodied counterparts earned. The policy was formalized in a collective bargaining agreement between UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. That CBA expired July 31.

The EEOC argued that the company policy violated Title I of the ADA because it "(1) limit[s], segregat[es], or classif[ies] drivers because of disability adversely affecting the opportunities or status of disabled drivers and (2) us[es] standards, criteria, or methods of administration that have the effect of discrimination on the basis of disability."

UPS argued the EEOC relied on a “selective and erroneous interpretation of the CBA,” which the company said included “ambiguities that preclude judgment.”

Chief Judge Julie Robinson sided with the EEOC and ruled that the policy was, indeed, illegal.  She also issued an injunction order "permanently [preventing UPS Freight] from discriminating on the basis of disability in violation of [the ADA and preventing] UPS Freight and the [union] from negotiating and ratifying terms of the next collective bargaining agreement which would discriminate on the basis of disability in violation [of the ADA]."

This injunction means UPS Freight must begin paying medically disabled employees at the same rate it pays able-bodied employees when temporarily moved from driving jobs.

“Monetary damages are inadequate to compensate for that injury because they cannot prevent future harm,” Court documents read. “The only ‘hardship’ UPS Freight will suffer is paying medically disqualified drivers more (100 percent pay rate), which is the same rate it already pays its other, non-disabled employees. The public interest will not be harmed by a permanent injunction prohibiting UPS Freight from discriminating on the basis of disability.”

The EEOC considers the case an important win.

"The ADA is a powerful legal tool to protect workers from unlawful discrimination based on disability, and the EEOC will vigorously challenge such discriminatory policies and practices,” Andrea Baran, EEOC's regional attorney in the St. Louis District Office, said. “It is also important that the Court ruled UPS Freight's claim of simply following the terms of its union contract is no defense to violating the law."

UPS Public Relations Senior Manager Matthew O’Connor said the company disagrees with the Court’s decision and intends to appeal.

“One of UPS’s core values is people should be respected in the workplace and treated in a fair and consistent manner,” O’Connor said. “UPS has robust policies regarding the accommodation of disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as under various state laws.”