A deaf woman won $775,000 in damages after a Broward County jury agreed with her claim that her disability led to her unjust termination from her job as a stocker at the Pompano Beach Costco wholesale club.
The woman worked at the company for 24 years before her termination in October 2013, according to the suit, which was filed in September 2015 in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.
After she was written up for being too loud, the woman sent a letter to Costco’s CEO complaining about the treatment, the suit says. Shortly after, she was suspended for a week, and eight days after she was told about the suspension, the woman was terminated, the suit says.
The woman sought damages under the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, claiming actions by Costco managers were “intentional, willful, malicious and with gross disregard for [her] rights.”
In its response, the wholesale club denied the woman’s discrimination claims, as well as her assertion that she “never had any performance problems, and was never warned, counseled or disciplined at any time during her tenure” at Costco.
Costco responded that the woman was disciplined “on numerous occasions throughout her employment for serious misconduct and insubordination.”
The jury disagreed in a trial that began May 29, awarding $750,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish caused by the denial of reasonable accommodations after Dec. 9, 2012, and $25,000 as punitive damages for Costco’s failure to provide reasonable accommodations.
Being deaf or hard of hearing is considered a disability in Florida and across the country. Employers are required to provide adjustments or certain training protocols that enable persons with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Employers are also required to make sure they communicate effectively with deaf employees. This can include having qualified sign language interpreters, including ASL interpreters, for important job-related communications.
Sadly, many employers do not try and meet these standards, and as a result, poor communication and confusion ensues. This often leads to unwarranted disciplinary action, discrimination and even wrongful termination of workers who are deaf or hard of hearing, as this case clearly shows.