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UPS, deaf workers settle case

Associated Press Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Deaf employees at UPS are to receive greater access to promotions and workplace safety materials under a proposed $10 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit.

The agreement -- which includes $4.1 million for plaintiffs' attorneys -- ends a trial of a class-action lawsuit claiming UPS, the nation's fourth-largest private employer, discriminated against more than 900 current and former hearing-impaired employees.

"I'm hopeful that deaf employees will not be held back anymore," Babaranti Oloyede, one of the plaintiffs, said through an interpreter Monday after the deal was announced.

Oloyede, a UPS employee in Oakland, has worked for the world's largest package hauler for 12 years. Along with other deaf employees, he claimed UPS routinely denied him opportunities for promotion and exposed him to unsafe conditions.

"We had many meetings, like a meeting about anthrax, and I didn't have an interpreter, so I didn't know what was going on," said Oloyede, 45.

Both current and former hearing-impaired employees were part of the suit against Sandy Springs-based UPS. The trial began in April.

Company officials denied discriminating against hearing-impaired employees and said UPS has tried to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.

"UPS has long been a positive work environment for those with disabilities and we're proud of our record thus far," said Peggy Gardner, spokeswoman for UPS. "We feel the measures called for in the settlement are only going to make a positive work environment even better."

Plaintiffs' lawyers said a cavalier attitude toward the disabled employees forced a settlement.

"Their defense was basically that deaf people should be happy to have a job," said attorney Todd Schneider. "I was shocked, the court was shocked, and that's why we settled."

Under the proposed settlement, UPS would set aside $100,000 to track promotions and ensure that deaf employees and job applicants have access to certified interpreters. The company would also provide text telephones and vibrating pagers to alert deaf employees to emergency evacuations.

The settlement resolves all issues in the case except for UPS' policy precluding deaf people from driving positions. Other companies, such as the U.S. Postal Service, permit deaf employees who have demonstrated safe driving skills to drive delivery vehicles under 10,000 pounds. That issue will be resolved in court.

"This issue is one of safety, not a disability or discrimination issue. UPS believes that any individual that cannot meet those minimum standards set by the Department of Transportation should not be driving a UPS truck," Gardner said. "We feel very strongly about that, which is why we did not come to an agreement."

The proposed settlement requires court approval after notice is distributed throughout the country and a fairness hearing is held. The parties hope for final approval by the end of the year.

© 2003, Associated Press


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