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Jury awards $4.9 million to man fired after losing vocal chords to cancer

Jury awards $4.9 million to man fired after losing vocal chords to cancer (KOMO News)

SEATTLE---A jury awarded a man nearly $5 million after he says he was fired from Mercedes Benz of Seattle when he lost his vocal chords to cancer.

A federal district court jury found the dealership refused to let Troy Coachman back to work because he spoke with a voice prosthesis following surgery for cancer.

In 2014, Coachman lost his vocal cords to cancer, but he didn't lose his will to fight—especially for what he loved—his job.

“I made it and it was all taken away with just like that and I felt anger, despair, betrayal, that was a huge thing for me,” said Coachman.

Even though doctors cleared Coachman to go back to work, he said he was fired in an email.

He had worked at Mercedes Benz for 14 years.

“I had to read it over and over, I couldn’t believe that I was terminated,” said Coachman. “We should be able to prove that if we have a disability, we can do the job like anybody else. And that’s all I ever wanted, was just a chance to do the job.”

When Coachman lost his job, he lost his health insurance and eventually his home when the cancer came back.

“I felt like the carpet was ripped from underneath me,” said Coachman.

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In Thursday’s decision, the jury awarded $236,812 in economic damages and $4,697,248 in compensatory damages for disability discrimination.

According to Coachman’s attorney, witnesses testified that the owner feared his customers would be uncomfortable speaking with an employee with a voice disability, and that he refused to allow Coachman to return.

For Coachman, the victory is bigger than compensation.

“You have to standup for yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will,” said Coachman. “The last four years I’ve been battling not only getting terminated but beating cancer three times and it’s not right to terminate someone on a disability.”

Mercedes Benz of Seattle released the following statement on Friday:

The dispute between Mercedes Benz of Seattle and Troy Coachman was hard fought. Mr. Coachman, who commenced his employment with the Company in January, 2012, was accommodated with over six months of medical leave. At the conclusion of that time, the company had not received any medical documentation that he was medically released to return to work.

The managers, with whom the Plaintiff had contact, including the General Manager, the General Sales Manager and the owner as well, all concurred that Plaintiff simply could not be understood when he spoke and speaking was the primary function of his job. Moreover, there were no vacant positions available as of January 1, 2015. Consequently, the company ended the Plaintiff’s employment. However, at the time the company ended his employment, the Plaintiff was told that, if positions became available and he could perform the functions of the job, he would be welcome to return. Approximately two months later, a position as a finance manager did become available and it was offered to the Plaintiff. He turned the position down.

Mercedes Benz of Seattle has a tradition and history of hiring and accommodating individuals with disabilities as evidenced by the fact that the company has disabled individuals on staff. Although Mercedes Benz of Seattle respects the jury system and the hard work that was put into this process by the jurors, the company does not believe that the decision made by the jurors was right. Consequently, Mercedes Benz of Seattle plans on appealing the decision.

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