By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Bus driver Glenn Bowen hurt his shoulder on the job, and his workers' compensation claim against the Hertz Corporation has dragged on unresolved for more than a year. Now that claim may be tied up in another case against the company, one brought by several of his black co-workers.
Bowen's trouble started on February 2, 1996. He was inspecting his bus prior to starting a 5 to 11 p.m. shift shuttling customers from the DIA terminal to the Hertz lot when he slipped on the ice and landed painfully on his right shoulder, suffering a tear in his rotator cuff. He notified Hertz and was sent to a company doctor for tests.
For the next year, he continued working and went to a physical therapist three times a week. Then it became two times a week, but nothing worked. Cortisone injections helped for a while, but the pain would return.
In April 1997, Bowen opted for rotator-cuff surgery. "I didn't want 'em to cut me, but I wanted to get better," he says.
He'd had the same surgery on his left shoulder twelve years earlier and made a full recovery, but this time he was not so lucky--his shoulder never fully recovered. Still, three weeks after the operation, he was ordered back to work. "I thought I'd be back when I recovered," Bowen says. Instead, he was out directing traffic on the Hertz lot, drowsy from painkillers, his arm in a sling.
Within weeks of his return, Bowen found himself back in the bus, driving with one hand and trying to operate the bus intercom with the other. The company's lack of concern for his injury, he says, led him to quit in August 1997 and file a claim for his still-ailing shoulder.
Since then he has been to no fewer than four doctors--two of his own choosing and two selected by Hertz.
A medical evaluation completed by one of Bowen's doctors in early February of this year found that Bowen's shoulder was weak and that he could not do work that required him to lift his hands above his head. He also had difficulty reaching into his back pocket. This doctor recommended that Bowen not lift anything heavier than ten pounds with his right arm and shoulder. The doctors concluded that he was "20 percent" physically impaired in his "upper right extremity."
And in a psychiatric report submitted by one of Bowen's other doctors, Bowen admitted to depression, decreased energy, decreased self-esteem and weight gain. He is less able to bowl and fish, some of his favorite hobbies. The psychiatrist gave Bowen a "mental impairment" rating of 10 percent.
Part of his shoddy treatment at the hands of Hertz, Bowen says, involved racial discrimination. While he was assigned to direct traffic with his arm in a sling, according to Bowen and others, a white employee with an injured leg had been given "light work" answering phones in the lost-and-found office.
"They could have made provisions for Glenn, but they did not," says co-worker Johnnie Peoples. "This white guy told Hertz when he was ready to come back."
Bowen was also given a drug test, even though, he says, the white worker with the injured leg was not subjected to a test.
Now Bowen is involved in a second lawsuit against the car-rental giant. Last March he joined nine other black Hertz employees in a potential class-action discrimination suit. The ten plaintiffs allege that they were treated more harshly than their white co-workers and that when they complained to their bosses, they were denied promotions, unjustly suspended and unjustly terminated.
Several of the employees tell stories similar to Bowen's.
Larry Hughes began working at Hertz in June 1994. He says that when the company was considering a new type of bus with better suspensions, only white drivers were asked to test it, even though most of the drivers on staff were black. Furthermore, he says, when the buses were purchased, black drivers weren't allowed to drive them. "Of course you'd want to drive them," he says. "They save your back."
In addition to joining the proposed class-action suit, Hughes says he filed an arbitration case against the company, claiming he was paid half as much as white employees to perform the same job. The matter went to arbitration; Hertz lost, and Hughes was rewarded back pay.
"My situation was always hostile," Hughes says. "I was told by different managers, when I had grievances going, to watch my back. Managers were going around with an atmosphere of cracking the whip."
Last August, he says, he was fired after an unfriendly encounter with a customer. He says a white customer got in his face for not helping his family with their bags. Hughes says the guy started bumping him in the chest and screaming obscenities, which he returned.
He was sent home and fired the next day.
Peoples, who started at Hertz in March 1995, says black workers had to ask permission to take water breaks or go to the bathroom, while white employees did not. "We had to constantly look over our shoulders."
Peoples was fired a day after Christmas last year after a verbal spat with a white colleague, who was not fired. After Peoples appealed the dismissal, she was offered her job back but declined.