A deaf woman won $775,000 in damages after a Broward County jury agreed with her claim that her disability led to her unjust termination from her job as a stocker at the Pompano Beach Costco wholesale club.
Christine D’Onofrio worked at the company for 24 years before her termination in October 2013, according to the suit, which was filed in September 2015 in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.
According to her complaint, supervisors declined D’Onofrio’s requests to have an interpreter or to have communications written down for her. Instead, she was given a video phone, “which worked great at meetings, but served little purpose during regular work,” the suit states.
Managers began to complain that D’Onofrio “was yelling on the video phone, despite [her] not being able to control the sound of her voice,” the suit states.
After she was written up for being too loud, D’Onofrio sent a letter to Costco’s CEO complaining about the treatment, the suit says. Shortly after, she was suspended for a week, and eight days after she was told about the suspension, D’Onofrio was terminated, the suit says.
D’Onofrio sought damages under the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, claiming actions by Costco managers were “intentional, willful, malicious and with gross disregard for [her] rights.”
In its response, the wholesale club denied D’Onofrio’s discrimination claims, as well as her assertion that she “never had any performance problems, and was never warned, counseled or disciplined at any time during her tenure” at Costco.
Costco responded that D’Onofrio was disciplined “on numerous occasions throughout her employment for serious misconduct and insubordination.”
Costco also said that any unlawful conduct by employees — meaning the accused supervisors — “if it occurred, was outside the scope of that individual’s employment, was not authorized or condoned by Defendant, and was undertaken without the knowledge or consent of Defendant. Thus, Defendant is not liable for any such conduct, if it occurred.”
The jury disagreed in a trial that began May 29, awarding $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.
An attorney for Costco did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
D’Onofrio’s attorney, Chad Levy, of the Law Offices of Levy & Levy, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale, said it became apparent through the trial that Costco “really was focused on protecting the company’s interest as opposed to Christine’s.” He added, “The size of the award and the punitive damages demonstrates that the jury believed this was not an accident.”