EVERETT — A U.S. District Court jury in Seattle has ordered FedEx to pay more than $6.8 million to a former employee in Everett who was the target of disability discrimination.
Dave Goldstine started working as a truck driver for the company in February 2015. Two years later, his employer placed him on unpaid, involuntary leave after finding he had a knee injury from years earlier, even though doctors had cleared Goldstine to work, court papers show.
Jurors found the company not only discriminated against Goldstine but retaliated against him after an incident in which he refused to climb into a trailer to try to close a severely damaged door, due to unsafe conditions and his physical limitations.
The jury reached a verdict Monday. They ordered FedEx to pay $101,743 in economic damages, $1.75 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.
“Witnesses testified FedEx managers jumped to conclusions about Goldstine’s limitations and refused to accept his repeated statements that his knee condition did not prevent him from working,” his attorneys wrote in a statement. “FedEx argued its treatment of Goldstine was no different than any other employee. The jury disagreed.”
Goldstine injured his knee in 1993. He has undergone 14 surgeries since then, court papers say. He received a prosthetic knee in 2010. Part of a leg bone was removed, as well.
FedEx was disappointed with the verdict, spokesperson Kelly Crow said in an email.
“Mr. Goldstine was removed from driving while his medical restrictions were assessed, but refused to return to work after he was medically cleared,” a statement from the company read. “We are considering our legal options including an appeal.
“FedEx Freight does not tolerate discrimination or retaliation,” the company statement continued. “Safety is our highest priority and we will continue to ensure that our drivers are properly qualified to drive at all times and that we maintain complete records of our drivers’ health history according to federal regulations.”
Goldstine worked full time at a shipping center on Hardeson Road.
After a routine annual physical exam in March 2017, a doctor re-certified Goldstine, finding that he could complete his job in accordance with U.S. Department of Transportation standards, even with the knee injury. The certification was valid for a year.
On April 6, 2017, he was called to deliver a trailer to Portland. Around 9 p.m., he noticed the rolling door didn’t shut all the way.
“The trailer door had missing or misaligned door rollers, and the door cable was frayed and tangled,” court papers say.
He did not drive the trailer to Oregon that night because of safety concerns.
The next day, a supervisor “combatively approached” Goldstine and asked why he didn’t make the delivery, his attorneys wrote in court documents.
According to the records, Goldstine explained his concerns. He saw the door was damaged; it was dark and rainy; he needed to hold a flashlight with one hand; and his knee has a limited range of motion that made it difficult to climb into the trailer.
Court papers say the supervisor responded: “If you have any limitation that prevents you from closing that door, we need to note that, and you may need to find another job.”
On April 11, 2017, Goldstine learned that FedEx had not accepted the certification and he no longer was allowed to drive FedEx vehicles. Supervisors told him to get a new physical. He did and was certified again.
FedEx then claimed, “Plaintiff did not disclose … being ‘disabled’ to the physician,” and therefore the second certification was not acceptable under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, attorneys for Goldstine wrote.
That act does not require a person going through a medical certification to list a disability, his attorneys noted. Yet Goldstine did inform the doctor of his past total knee replacement.
About a week later, Goldstine returned to the clinic for a third evaluation at the request of his managers. His doctor did not complete the physical because “it was a complete waste of her time and resources as the results from the prior physical on April 13, 2017 were valid for one year,” court documents say.
FedEx allegedly refused to let him return to work. At the time, Goldstine was making $25.83 an hour as a full-time worker and about 64 cents for every mile he drove. He was not paid for about 100 days, his attorneys said.
Goldstine filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle in 2018. As he awaited trial, Goldstine was diagnosed with cancer in September 2019. Because he was not working and did not have health insurance through a job, he could not afford medical care. His treatment was put on hold. He has since found another job as a truck driver for a different company and his medical condition has improved, Mountlake Terrance attorney Ada Wong said. He still lives in Snohomish County.
A trial began in U.S. District Court in late 2019, but a judge quickly declared a mistrial, excused the jury and sanctioned FedEx’s attorneys for not turning over relevant records to the plaintiff.
“Each and every discovery request made by Plaintiff was responded to either late or not at all,” U.S. District Court Judge Marsha J. Pechman wrote.
A second trial began earlier this month. It was one of the first federal jury trials in the state to be completed entirely via Zoom, the online video platform.
After an eight-day trial and two days of deliberation, the jury found FedEx violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I am relieved that the jury heard my case and enforced the law,” Goldstine said in a statement. “I brought this lawsuit because I want everyone to know that people with disabilities are worthy of the same opportunities to work. My knee condition has slowed me down but it has never kept me from working as a truck driver. All I wanted was a fair chance to prove myself.”
Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @stephrdavey.