FedEx pushes back against $366 million racial bias settlement for former employee

FedEx plans to challenge the judgment awarded to Jennifer Harris, an ex-salesperson who claimed the company fired her after her discrimination complaint.

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FedEx Corp. is not giving in after being ordered to pay $366 million to a former employee, making it the largest-ever jury judgment achieved by a worker suing for racial bias.

According to Bloomberg, FedEx plans to challenge the judgment awarded to Jennifer Harris, a Black ex-salesperson, who claimed the company fired her after she complained about discrimination. 

Following the Oct. 25 jury award of $1.16 million in compensatory damages and $365 million in punitive damages, FedEx said in a filing Tuesday it would appeal their verdict and urge the trial judge to lower the award amounts. The trial took place in a federal court in Texas. 

FedEx trucks are parked at a FedEx Ship Center in Los Angeles. FedEx is pushing back against a $366 settlement awarded to Jennifer Harris, a Black ex-salesperson who claims she was discriminated against because of her race. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“FedEx believes ultimate compensatory and punitive damages and pre- and post-judgment interest up to $75 million will be covered by insurance, subject to a retention of up to $10 million,” the company said in a filing, according to Bloomberg.

In her lawsuit, Reuters reported, Harris said FedEx hired her in 2007, and that she had been a “rising star.” She reportedly received six promotions and reached the position of district sales manager before being requested by her white supervisor to accept a demotion in March 2019.

According to Bloomberg, court documents reveal that the judge stated in instructions to the jury that Harris said she was wrongly fired and subjected to unfair employment treatment because of her race. She cited the harassment as “constant, obscene, obnoxious” and “shocking to the conscience of the ordinary person.”

FedEx, on the other hand, asserted that they terminated Harris for poor performance. The jury sided with Harris, who claimed that her employer fired her in retaliation after the company’s human resources department disregarded her charge of discrimination. 

“FedEx does not engage in or tolerate retaliation,” the company said Tuesday in an emailed statement, Bloomberg reported. “We followed our protocols for performance management with Ms. Harris and are confident that we acted properly regarding her termination.” 

Judges or appeals courts frequently reduce sizable punitive damage awards if determined to be out of proportion with compensatory damages.

The actual settlement amount for the case may take some time, at least if it’s compared to another significant jury verdict against FedEx, which resulted in the firm paying $370 million to plaintiffs and their attorneys in July for a deadly accident in New Mexico in 2012.

FedEx contested that jury verdict, which increased in value due to interest accrual from the original $160 million in damages. The company appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, but its bid failed.

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