A Superior Court jury in San Francisco awarded $61 million to two FedEx Ground drivers of Lebanese descent who claimed a manager harassed them with racial slurs for two years.
Edgar Rizkallah, 43, and Kamil Issa, 36, said in the discrimination lawsuit they were called “terrorists,” “camel jockeys” and other epithets in 1999 and 2000 by Stacy Shoun, terminal manager for the Oakland FedEx Ground facility where the two men were contract drivers.
An Alameda County Superior Court jury awarded the men $50 million in punitive damages, on top of $11 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded them on May 24, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and a FedEx Ground spokesman said Saturday.
The company plans to appeal. Spokesman Maury Lane said other managers testified that the harassment never happened, but he declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing ongoing litigation.
“The jury’s verdict was wrong and excessive,” Lane said. “The company has strong anti-discriminatory policies, and this is not tolerated.”
Rizkallah and Issa, both Lebanese-Americans, accused FedEx Ground, the Pittsburgh-based trucking division of shipping giant FedEx Corp., and Shoun in the 2001 lawsuit of creating a hostile work environment based on their race and national origin and causing emotional distress, said their San Francisco lawyer, Christopher Dolan.
The men complained to senior managers but the company ignored their claims, Dolan said.
The lawsuit accused FedEx Ground of failing to enforce its own anti-discrimination policies and prevent abuse against minorities.
Testimony included other workers who claimed to have witnessed the harassment, Dolan said.
“The company’s treatment of all minority drivers in that facility was absolutely horrible,” Dolan said in a telephone interview Saturday. “The other drivers testified they were being treated like slaves. I call it a plantation mentality.”
Shoun was ordered to pay $1 million to the drivers as part of the compensatory damages award under a California law allowing individuals to be held personally liable for workplace harassment.
Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Shoun on Saturday were unsuccessful.
He remains employed by the company, but a spokesman declined to say whether Shoun is still in management and refused to discuss details of the allegations.
“FedEx firmly disagrees with the jury’s verdict,” said Perry Colosimo, a FedEx Ground spokesman. “We believe it was excessive. We will vigorously appeal this verdict to the highest court.”
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