Fayette County

Judge upholds $5.3 million award in UPS workplace case

Donald Ragland, left, and William Barber, are two of the eight plaintiffs who were awarded $5.3 million in April by a Fayette Circuit Court jury in a lawsuit against UPS.
Donald Ragland, left, and William Barber, are two of the eight plaintiffs who were awarded $5.3 million in April by a Fayette Circuit Court jury in a lawsuit against UPS. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

A judge overruled a motion Friday to overturn a jury’s verdict and $5.3 million in damages to eight black men who alleged a hostile work environment at United Parcel Service in Lexington.

Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorscone rejected the arguments from an attorney representing UPS that the jury’s verdict in April should be overturned, or that the judge should grant a new trial.

Scorsone said there was “abundant evidence” to justify the jury’s verdict and award.

“My goodness, you guys got lucky with the verdict,” Scorsone told Neal Shah, the attorney representing UPS.

After a two-week trial and eight hours of deliberation, the jury found that UPS was liable to all the plaintiffs for creating a hostile workplace, liable for discriminating against one employee, and liable for retaliating against three others. The jury awarded damages of $1.5 million to one man, $1 million to a second, and between $100,000 and $810,000 for six others, for a total of $5.3 million.

Nevertheless, Shah said there was an “absence of evidence on material elements required to prove the plaintiffs’ claims.”

Shah argued that when employees brought claims of disparate treatment between black drivers and white drivers to their managers, UPS “held multiple meetings with the highest-level managers in the district to try to get at the root” of the problem.

“The evidence was they didn’t do anything,” Scorsone retorted.

When Shah said the damages awarded were “clearly excessive,” Scorsone asked, “What is the value of being treated properly and not being racially targeted for particular conduct? What’s the value of that?”

“Well, there was no evidence that there was any adverse action in this circumstance,” Shah said.

“The jury did find that they were treated improperly because of race,” Scorsone said. “You think that amount is excessive?”

“I do,” Shah said. “Yes, your honor.”

Luke Morgan, an attorney for the UPS employees, said there are instances when it is appropriate to overturn a jury’s verdict, “particularly when there is a close call.”

“This is not a close-call case,” Morgan said. The jury said UPS was liable for “very many, multiple, serial acts of discrimination based on a person’s race. And now UPS is before this court saying, ‘Everybody got it all wrong.’ At some point, UPS has to come to the realization that they did wrong.”

Testimony was heard and evidence was introduced at trial that an effigy of a black UPS driver was hung from a ceiling for four days.

Meanwhile, a UPS employee in Maumee, Ohio, was recently fired after hanging a noose inside a distribution center. The Ohio incident was not mentioned in Friday’s hearing in Lexington.

Shah did not have any comment after the hearing. But UPS public relations director Susan Rosenberg said Friday that “UPS is committed to a workplace that supports diversity, opportunity and fairness. We will continue to reinforce that in our training and practice and encourage employees to raise concerns that will be addressed.”

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