Former FedEx employee awarded $366 million after suing company for discrimination and retaliation over racial complaints

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“I think it’s critical for anyone to fight for themselves and for the company to do the right thing,” said Jennifer Harris, a Fort Worth, Texas woman who successfully sued FedEx. .

Harris’ feelings are what motivated her to sue her former employer, which resulted in a $366 million jury award following her race discrimination and retaliation trial. Harris says she started her career at FedEx as an account executive in 2007 and rose through the ranks with her strong performance.

“I worked very hard, I was very successful, I was transferred and promoted six times and transferred and promoted to management and held three management positions at the level of district sales manager” , Harris said.

Despite her successful tenure as a saleswoman for FedEx, her work experience took a turn on March 8, 2019. Harris claimed she was discriminated against for being black after her white manager asked her to demote.

According to the lawsuit, Harris’ supervisor asked her to “resign to a lower position because she was ‘so good’ at what she did.” The lawsuit goes on to say that “when Harris refused to be demoted, the negative treatment escalated” and Harris’ supervisor removed some of her commissions. It was after Harris complained to Human Resources that her supervisor issued an “unacceptable performance advisory letter on June 26, 2019, without documented discussion as required by FedEx policies.”

“In June they followed up on the results of the investigation and then 23 days later I was given a letter of advice and in my 12 year career I have never been written, so to me, it was blatant retaliation,” Harris said.

“Jennifer does sales and some sales involve a lot of spreadsheets and numbers, and HR was easily tricked by managers who could manipulate the numbers to make Jennifer look bad,” said BB Sanford, one attorneys for Harris who worked on his racial discrimination and retaliation. court case.

After receiving poor performance reviews, Harris suspected she was being retaliated against and raised her concerns at higher levels.

“Then I sensitized the VP and Senior VP and that’s what created an HR complaint so they could do an HR investigation which they claim they did but it was obvious that all the investigations they conducted were fictitious investigations,” Harris said.

Less than a year after raising issues of racial discrimination and retaliation, Harris was out of a job.

“I was fired in January 2020,” Harris said.

Harris decided not to let her firing be the end and filed a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against FedEx on May 20, 2021. The lawsuit alleges that FedEx failed to follow its policies prohibiting discrimination and retaliation. “The company discriminates and retaliates by first disciplining the employee based on race and then terminating the employee after the employee reports concerns about violations,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit also accuses FedEx of failing to review all documents related to Harris’ discrimination claims and of failing to train its officials to properly handle retaliation.

During the trial, attorneys hired by Harris, BB Sanford and her father, Brian Sanford, focused on FedEx policies and procedures within its human resources department.

“The goal of HR in a racial discrimination complaint, a retaliatory report, should be to conduct a fair investigation and ensure the safety of the employee, during, after and before the investigation and when these systems break down. breakdown like they did at FedEx, huge problems occur. “said BB Sanford.

BB Sanford says she questioned FedEx human resources staff on the stand during the trial about where employees should raise concerns if they felt ignored at lower levels.

“We walked HR through this series of questions, HR, where that responsibility ends and they couldn’t answer any of those questions,” Sanford said. “They believed the manager and not Jennifer and they just approved whatever the manager would say, or what the VP would say then when there are not proper checks and balances and proper systems in place. That’s when it all falls apart, and that’s what brings us to a jury and they’re all out in our trial,” Sanford continued.

A Texas jury believed Harris’ claims of discrimination and retaliation and decided to send a strong message by ordering FedEx to pay Harris $366 million in damages. “I felt very good about our chances of winning the case, I didn’t expect the amount,” attorney Brian Sanford said of the jury’s verdict.

Atlanta Black Star has contacted FedEx for comment on the lawsuit filed against them and the company said in a statement, “We strongly disagree with the verdict and will appeal. FedEx does not engage in or condone retaliation. We have followed our performance management protocols with Mr. Harris and are confident that we acted correctly regarding his dismissal.

The company said in a filing with the SEC last week that it would appeal the verdict and seek a reduction in the award, which is broken down into $1.16 million in compensatory damages and $365 million. punitive damages. FedEx asserted in those filings that Supreme Court precedent generally caps punitive damages at 10 times the compensatory award and much less when the compensatory award is significant.

BB Sanford says they have not heard from the company since the trial. “They never made an offer with us, never tried to negotiate with us, never tried to settle with us, they won’t talk to us now about settling, they just say they will appeal. They never accepted responsibility or said I’m sorry,” Sanford said of the company since the lawsuit.

Harris has advice for other employees who suspect they are the victim of racial discrimination or retaliation, document it all.

“I would just urge people to stand firm, making sure they document the cases that do happen because it’s extremely difficult to share evidence when it’s your word against theirs,” Harris said.

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