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‘Didn’t Expect the Amount’: Former FedEx Employee Awarded $366 Million After Suing Company for Discrimination and Retaliation Amid Racial Complaints

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

Harris’ sentiments are what motivated her to go through with suing her former employer which resulted in a $366 million dollar jury award following her racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Harris says she started her career with FedEx as an account executive in 2007, and has worked her way up the ranks for her strong performance.

“I worked really hard, was extremely successful, I was moved and promoted six times and moved and promoted into leadership and held three leadership positions at the district sales manager level,” Harris said.

Despite her successful tenure as a saleswoman for FedEx, her experience on the job took a turn on March 8, 2019. Harris claimed she was being discriminated against for being Black after her white manager asked her to take a demotion.

According to the lawsuit, Harris’ supervisor asked her to “step down to a lower position because she was ‘so good’ at what she was doing.” The lawsuit goes on to say, “when Harris declined 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 a “Letter of Counseling for unacceptable performance on June 26, 2019, without a documented discussion as required by FedEx’s policies.”

“In June is when they followed up with their results of the investigation and then, 23 days later, I’m given a letter of counseling and within my 12-year career, I’ve never been written up so to me that was blatant retaliation,” Harris said.

“Jennifer does sales and some sales involves a lot of spreadsheets and numbers, and H.R. was easily bamboozled by managers who could manipulate numbers to make Jennifer look bad,” said B.B. Sanford, one of Harris’ attorneys who worked on her racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit.

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

“Then I raised awareness to the VP and the SVP and that is what created an HR complaint so they could do an HR investigation which they claim they did but it was obvious that all of the investigations they did were sham investigations,” Harris said.

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

“I was terminated in January of 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 FedEx failed to follow its policies prohibiting discrimination and retaliation. “The corporation discriminates and retaliates against by first disciplining the employee because of race and then terminating the employee after the employee reported concerns of violations,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit also accuses FedEx of not looking at all of the documents related to Harris’ discrimination claims and failing to train its managers to properly handle retaliation.  

During the trial, Harris’ attorneys B.B. Sanford and her father, Brian Sanford, zeroed in on FedEx policies and procedures within its human resources department.

“The goal of H.R. in a racial discrimination complaint, a retaliation report, should be to do a fair investigation and keep the employee safe, during, after and before the investigation and when those systems break down as they did in FedEx, huge problems happen,” B.B. Sanford said.

B.B. Sanford says she questioned FedEx human resources personnel on the stand during trial on where employees should take their concerns if they feel they are being ignored at lower levels.

“We walked H.R. through that line of questioning, H.R., where does that buck stop and they couldn’t answer any of those questions,” Sanford said. “They believed the manager and not Jennifer and they just rubber-stamped anything the manager would say, or what the VP would say so when there are not proper checks and balances and proper systems in place. That’s when everything falls apart, and that’s what brings us before a jury and they all came out at 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 dollars in damages. “I felt very good about our chances of winning the case, I did not expect the amount,” attorney Brian Sanford said of the jury verdict.

Atlanta Black Star reached out to FedEx for a comment on the lawsuit against them and the company said in a statement, “we strongly disagree with the verdict and will appeal. FedEx does not engage in or tolerate retaliation. We followed our protocols for performance management with Mr. Harris and are confident that we acted properly regarding her termination.”

The company said last week in an SEC filing that it will appeal both the verdict and seek a reduction of the award, which was broken down into $1.16 million in compensatory damages and $365 million in punitive damages. FedEx claimed in those documents that Supreme Court precedents generally cap punitive damages at 10 times the compensatory award and much less when the compensatory award is large.

B.B. Sanford says they have not heard from the company since the trial. “They have never made an offer with us, never once tried to mediate with us, never tried to settle with us, they will not talk to us right now about settling, they just say they’re going to appeal. They have never accepted responsibility, or said I’m sorry,” Sanford said of the company since the trial.

Harris has a word of advice for other employees who suspect they are victims of racial discrimination or retaliation, document everything.

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

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