Troy Coachman was a 14-year employee of the Mercedes-Benz dealership on Airport Way when he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a laryngectomy at the end of 2014,
A Pierce County man who was fired by Mercedes-Benz of Seattle after receiving a prosthetic voice box after cancer surgery was awarded nearly $5 million by a federal jury on Thursday, one of the largest disability verdicts in recent years, according to attorneys.
Troy Coachman was a 14-year employee of the Mercedes-Benz dealership on Airport Way when he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a laryngectomy at the end of 2014, according to documents filed in a disability discrimination and wrongful-termination lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court.
By the beginning of 2015, Coachman had been cleared by his physicians to return to his job as finance director for the Mercedes-Benz dealership and the general manager put him on the schedule, court records show. Unable to speak due to his surgery, Coachman breathed through a hole in his neck and communicated using a prosthetic speaking device while he recovered, according to court documents. Almost all of his fellow employees expected him to return to work after the surgery and recovery, according to trial documents.
Just before returning to work, Coachman visited the dealership and ran into the owner, Al Monjazeb, and the two shook hands and talked briefly, according to court documents. Coachman was still recovering and was on voice rest, according to his attorneys. The lawsuit and trial documents allege that Monjazeb, based on that single brief meeting, decided Coachman could no longer do his job.
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The lawsuit and trial documents indicate that Monjazeb repeatedly refused to meet again with Coachman and told his managers not to discuss his employment status with him when he returned to the office in January 2015. According to the trial briefs and documents filed before trial, Monjazeb fired Coachman by email, explaining privately that the man’s “voice box would be unappealing to customers,” according to the 2017 suit.
The lawsuit alleges Monjazeb’s actions violated both the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mercedes-Benz of Seattle declined to comment when reached by phone on Thursday.
“This verdict is a tremendous victory for our client and our community,” said one of Coachman’s attorneys, Beth Bloom. “Our client showed courage by refusing to be treated as a person less deserving and less worthy of the opportunity to work.”
Coachman is currently working as finance director for the Larson Automotive Group of Fife, Puyallup and Tacoma.
Coachman “is the same person he was before he had cancer and all he wanted was a chance to prove himself,” said Bloom. “Employers have a duty to protect employees from discrimination and we certainly hope other employers will take this verdict to heart”