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Woman sues UPS over discrimination

Joe Napsha
| Thursday, May 10, 2012, 8:10 a.m.

A former United Parcel Service Inc. employee at the company's New Stanton facility filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the shipper, alleging she and others with an addiction to alcohol and drugs were victims of discrimination.

Darlene E. Veltri, who worked for UPS for 17 years, and the American Association of People With Disabilities, contend in the suit filed Aug. 5 in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh that UPS' "structural and systemic" discrimination against thousands of former and current participants in its Employee Assistance Program violates the Americans With Disabilities Act. The suit alleges that UPS forced some workers to stop using prescription medication under the threat of being fired.

Veltri, a Monroeville-area resident, is seeking back pay and benefits from when she was fired on Jan. 28, 2003, plus front pay and benefits, compensatory damages and punitive benefits. The suit also seeks an injunction against UPS to prevent the discrimination.

Attorney Charles Lamberton, of Pittsburgh, the lead attorney in the case, stated that "UPS is alleged to have illegally terminated hundreds of employees because it disapproved of their prescription medication. If proven, the claims could expose UPS to tens of millions of dollars in damages."

The suit was filed on behalf of all current and former employees who worked as UPS sorters, loaders, unloaders and officer personnel, but it excludes drivers, pilots and other workers who perform "safety-sensitive functions." The suit contends that 260,000 of UPS' 350,000 employees are in nonsafety-sensitive jobs and estimates 4,636 UPS workers were in the Employee Assistance Program in the 10-month period before the suit was filed.

The class-action suit states that the discrimination spreads across six groups of employees: workers in the Employee Assistance Program who were required to disclose their prescription medications, workers required to provide urine samples that were tested for prescription medicine, workers prohibited from using physician-prescribed medications, workers fired for using their legal prescriptions, and workers prescribed medications to treat depression, anxiety or related disorders.

Veltri, a UPS package sorter from 1986 to Jan. 28, 2003, was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and clinical depression in 1999. She was prescribed a mild daily dose of Xanax for treatment but was terminated from her job because she tested positive for the drug. UPS allegedly determined it was inappropriate medication for a recovering alcoholic.

The suit states that Veltri underwent a 30-day treatment program for alcohol addiction in 2000 and was required to take random breath and urine tests when she returned to work. In October 2000, UPS required her to reveal the prescription medications she was taking and later prohibited her from taking Xanax, despite her doctor's advice that it was in her best interest to take the drug.

The suit claimed UPS created a "hostile work environment" and allowed supervisors to create a "disability-based harassment," by falsely telling her she should not trust her doctor's medical advice. It alleged that UPS required her to stop taking Xanax as a condition for returning to her job and required that she undergo tests for the drug.

Veltri filed a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Oct. 3, 2003. The nonprofit American Association of People With Disabilities, which is based in Washington, D.C., said it has suffered a "significant drain" on its resources in helping Veltri and others counteract UPS' alleged discrimination. The organization is the largest cross-disability group in the nation.

Malcolm Berkley, a UPS spokesman at the company's headquarters in Atlanta, said he could not comment on the lawsuit.

Berkley said UPS is aware the lawsuit was filed but has not yet been served officially. Berkley said the company has a policy against discrimination and denies it has discriminated against anyone with a disability.

Lamberton said that the message behind the class-action lawsuit is, "Stop playing doctor."

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