HR Administration

Appeals Court Finds Retaliation Claim Against UPS Valid, but Judgment ‘Excessive’

By Sheena Harrison

Oct. 26, 2011

The United Parcel Service likely retaliated against an injured worker when it blocked him from returning to work with lifting restrictions, according to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, the court said a $2 million judgment against UPS in the case was “excessive,” because the company’s actions only caused monetary harm to Keith Jones, a former UPS package car driver and plaintiff in Jones vs. United Parcel Service Inc.

Jones of Kansas City, Kansas, claimed that UPS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when the company said a lifting restriction, caused by a 2003 shoulder injury, prevented him from working any job within UPS, court filings show. A company-appointed doctor restricted him from lifting more than 20 pounds overhead after his injury, though UPS carriers are routinely required to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds overhead.

Two doctors who evaluated Jones in 2004 said he was later able to lift 70 pounds. But they testified that discussions with Monica Sloan, a UPS occupational health manager, prevented them from removing his lifting restrictions.

Subsequently, Jones was unable to return to UPS. He argued that the company retaliated against him for filing a workers’ compensation claim for his shoulder injury.

In a 2-1 ruling on Oct. 24, the appeals court said Jones’ retaliation claim is valid because Sloan, “on multiple occasions, intentionally interfered with the doctors’ medical evaluations in an attempt to prevent Jones from returning to work.” The court also ruled that punitive damages were appropriate in light of Sloan’s actions.

However, it said a $2 million jury award is excessive because Sloan “did not act with disregard for the health and safety of others,” and that her “conduct was not so reprehensible” to warrant such a large award. A $630,300 jury award to Jones for actual damages in the UPS case was affirmed by the appeals court.

Jones can choose to pursue a new jury trial in order to determine punitive damages in the case, the appeal court said.

Sheena Harrison writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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Sheena Harrison writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

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