Deaf Costco worker with mumbling manager won’t get $775K jury award

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A deaf former employee of a South Florida Costco store won’t be collecting $775,000 a federal jury awarded her in a discrimination and wrongful termination case.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to reconsider a judge's decision to overturn the 2018 verdict in favor of Christine D'Onofrio. An appellate court also declined to reinstate the award.

D’Onofrio, of Deerfield Beach, had worked for Costco for 24 years, and said she never had issues communicating with managers until one arrived at the Pompano Beach location who mumbled, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

She requested an interpreter or to have communications written down for her. Instead, Costco provided her with a video phone with online interpretation services. Managers then wrote her up for yelling too loudly into the phone. She sent a letter to the company’s CEO complaining about her treatment. Shortly after, she was suspended for a week, then terminated in October 2013, the lawsuit said.

Jurors in the Fort Lauderdale trial agreed with D'Onofrio's claim that Costco didn't provide a reasonable accommodation as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but decided she wasn't terminated because of her disability and in retaliation for her complaints.

Jurors awarded her $750,000 for mental anguish and $25,000 in punitive damages, the newspaper reported.

U.S. District Judge William Zloch overturned the verdict, finding that “no reasonable jury could have found in favor of (the) plaintiff.” Zloch ruled that D’Onofrio had rejected the video phone and online interpretation services provided by Costco.

D’Onofrio's lawyers appealed, arguing that the phone and online services did not overcome communication problems that arose during her final year at Costco, the newspaper reported.

The company argued that it went beyond its legal responsibilities in providing the interpretive services and equipment to D’Onofrio.

In January 2019, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision found that Costco did provide reasonable accommodation to D’Onofrio and declined to overturn Zloch’s ruling, the newspaper reported.

The petition to the Supreme Court asked justices to consider whether the appellate court failed to apply the correct standard of review. Her lawyer, William J. Butler in Miami Beach, said he had no insight into the Supreme Court’s decision.