Deaf driver wins $36 million judgment against Omaha trucking company

By: - September 2, 2023 4:55 pm

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — A federal jury has rendered a $36 million judgment for a man who was deaf and was turned down for a truck-driving job by Omaha-based Werner Enterprises, despite graduating from a company-owned driving school.

For such discrimination cases, however, punitive and compensatory damages are capped at $300,000 for employers with 500 or more workers.

The discrimination case was brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Victor Robinson, who had applied for a job with Werner in 2016.

But he was rejected because he was deaf, despite having obtained a “hearing exemption” from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and graduating from a Werner-owned truck driving school.

Violation of ADA

The EEOC, in its lawsuit, said the trucking company failed to accommodate Robinson’s disability and had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Werner’s lawyers, in their legal response to the lawsuit, denied the allegations and maintained that the EEOC failed to engage in good faith conciliation efforts prior to filing a lawsuit.

“Robinson’s physical impairments could not be reasonably accommodated in order to perform the essential functions of his position,” Werner argued.

But a federal jury in Omaha on Friday took less than two hours to deliver a verdict after hearing testimony during a four-day trial. The jury awarded $75,000 in actual damages and $36 million in punitive damages, but the EEOC cap is $300,000 total.

EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows, in a press release, said the jury’s verdict and award “sends a clear message to employers everywhere that our nation will not tolerate disability discrimination.”

Werner says safety highest priority

“Like everyone else, Deaf people deserve a fair chance to make a living and to support themselves and their families,” added David Davis, the director of the EEOC’s district office in St. Louis.

A spokeswoman for Werner, in an emailed statement Saturday, said the company was disappointed and considering an appeal.

Jill Samuelson, an associate vice president for marketing and communications, said another Omaha jury, earlier this year, had sided with Werner in a very similar lawsuit.

“The company operates with the mantra that nothing we do is worth getting hurt or hurting others, whether that be its professional drivers, customers or the motoring public at large,” Samuelson said.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.