When Miami-native Christine D’Onofrio found out she’d won her suit against wholesale giant Costco, filed on account of discrimination against her due to her hearing impairment, she was mostly just relieved that the company was found guilty of breaking the law, according to her attorney Chad Levy. The amount she was awarded in damages? $775,000.
“Honestly, this was never about money for her,” Levy said. “She is very smart with an incredible memory, but her disability limits her ceiling. Stocking at Costco was the best and highest-paying job she would attain. It took her 24 years to reach the $20.30 hourly rate.”
According to D’Onofrio’s lawsuit, she was fired in October of 2013, but her conflicts with management started long before that. She had spent a full year prior to her termination begging for Costco to take her disability more seriously, requesting a translator so that she could better communicate with her coworkers, which they denied. Management also denied her proposition that they merely write down their communications with pen and paper, and instead gave her a video phone, which “worked great at meetings, but served little purpose during regular work.”
According to the University of Rochester School of Medicine, “The United States funds a service called ‘Video Relay Services’ (VRS) to provide interpreters to Deaf people to make telephone calls. The video phone, often called a VP, can be used to talk to others via a sign language interpreter, who connects with a person who can hear through a regular phone.”
Soon after D’Onofrio began using her video phone, management reprimanded her for causing disturbances in the store by yelling into the device, even though her disability prevents her from controlling the volume of her voice at times. She was written up for the loudness issue, which prompted her to pen a letter to Costco CEO Walter Craig Jelinek in which she reported her unfair treatment. Soon after she sent her letter, she was suspended for a week. Eight days after that, she was fired.
D’Onofrio immediately filed a lawsuit under the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, citing actions by her managers that she deemed “intentional, willful, malicious and with gross disregard for [her] rights.” Costco vehemently denied her claims, saying that it was absolutely untrue that she “never had any performance problems, and was never warned, counseled or disciplined at any time during her tenure.”
Costco also asserted that D’Onofrio had been disciplined many times during her time with the company for “serious misconduct and insubordination.” Their attorneys also maintained that the actions of D’Onofrio’s managers were completely unrelated to the company as a whole, saying, “If it occurred, it was outside the scope of that individual’s employment, was not authorized or condoned by the Defendant (the company), and was undertaken without the knowledge or consent of Defendant. Thus, the Defendant is not liable for any such conduct, if it occurred.”
However, the jury completely disagreed with Costco’s claims, citing one especially damaging piece of evidence which indicated that D’Onofrio’s direct supervisor did not receive disability sensitivity training because she missed the meeting. Had she been present, she would have learned that when deaf people yell, it’s often unrelated to any anger or emotion duress.
According to D’Onofrio’s lawyer, Chad Levy, “It became apparent through the trial that Costco really was focused on protecting the company’s interest as opposed to Christine’s. The size of the award and the punitive damages demonstrates that the jury believed this was not an accident.” D’Onofrio was awarded “$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.”
What do you think about this case? Was there any truth in Costco’s argument, or is it just another case of corporate greed? What will D’Onofrio’s do next? Let us know in the comments down below!