FedEx Freight has lost a battle in court over a dismissed driver who had a rebuilt knee with possibly limited motion, with a jury awarding the plaintiff a little more than $6.85 million.
The large award against the LTL division of FedEx comes after a lawsuit that started over a seemingly innocuous event: the decision by the plaintiff in the case, David Goldstine, to not shut a damaged trailer door because of concerns over his knee, which had undergone knee replacement surgery a few years earlier.
The payout the jury awarded to Goldstine includes $5 million for “malice or reckless indifference to Mr. Goldstine’s rights against discrimination under the Americans with Disabiliites Act.”
Emotional harm damages were assessed at $1.75 million. Past and future economic losses were assessed at a bit more than $400,000. The total was reduced by $300,000 by the jury’s decision that Goldstine did not “mitigate” his damages.
“While we respect the judicial process, we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” FedEx Freight said in a prepared statement. “Mr. Goldstine was removed from driving while his medical restrictions were assessed, but refused to return to work after he was medically cleared. We are considering our legal options including an appeal.” The statement added that the company does not “tolerate discrimination or retaliation.”
The incident that set off the lawsuit and the large damage award began in April 2017, according to the original complaint filed by Goldstine. He had been “dispatched” to deliver a trailer to Portland, Oregon. At that point, he had been working for FedEx Freight since February 2015, was making $25.83 per hour and getting 64.11 cents per mile. He also had been certified to drive by U.S. Healthworks about a month before the incident with the damaged door.
But before he could start on his trip, “upon inspection of the trailer, [Goldstine] discovered that the door was damaged in such a way that prevented the door from being closed,” the original complaint said. The door had “missing … or misaligned door rollers” and “frayed and tangled” cables. (In its response to the lawsuit, FedEx did not dispute the condition of the trailer.)
“It was dark and raining at the time, so [Goldstine] did not attempt to close the trailer door because he determined that it would be unsafe for him to do so,” the original complaint says.
He contacted a supervisor who tried to close the door; that person also couldn’t shut it. But FedEx policy “states that trailers are not supposed to leave the dock with the door open.” Another supervisor was called in, but he said “it was not his job to close the broken door.”
The next day, another supervisor, Randy Mott, “combatively” came up to Goldstine and wanted to know why the trailer wasn’t delivered to Portland. Goldstine explained about the broken door, the attempt by a supervisor to close it and the refusal to try by yet another supervisor.
According to the initial complaint, that set off friction-filled discussions and communications, aggravated in part by Goldstine’s mention that the “limited range of motion” in his knee “makes it difficult to climb into the trailer.” At one point, according to the lawsuit, Mott told Goldstine that he would “need to find another job.”
Goldstine was decertified, which stopped his authorization to drive FedEx vehicles. He then sought physical recertification from U.S. Healthworks and was granted it, according to the suit. The suit also says on the form to be certified by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Goldstine did say he had a disability.
By June, Goldstine was gone from the company.
Not surprisingly, the FedEx Freight version of events is considerably different. In a motion for a directed verdict filed before the jury came in with its decision, lawyers for FedEx Freight suggested Goldstine had not disclosed his limited knee motion on his earlier DOT examination to be certified. Goldstine believed the request to be recertified after the trailer door incident was discriminatory on its face, according to the FedEx Freight motion. FedEx Freight also said that a later examination of the knee showed a full range of motion.
“Clearly, FedEx Freight did nothing more than comply with federally mandated procedures applicable to all its drivers in addressing Goldstine’s circumstances,” the company’s attorneys say in their motion.