This morning a federal jury in southern California returned a verdict of $185 million in punitive damages (on top of more than $872,000 in compensatory damages) to a woman alleging her employer retaliated against her for complaining about discrimination.
The employee alleged that during her employment she was discriminated against due to her sex and her pregnancy. When she complained internally about that discrimination, things got worse. She was demoted and, after filing a complaint with the California state agency about the demotion, she was eventually fired. So she sued the employer.
The jury found merit to her complaints. On Friday, the jury awarded more than $872,000 in compensatory damages for past lost earnings, future economic loss, and emotional distress. And this morning the jury sent a clear message with its $185 million punitive damages award.
Employers must be diligent not only with respect to implementing nondiscriminatory policies (and ensuring nondiscriminatory application of those policies), but also in how they respond when employees voice complaints. Failure to do so can be costly.
Juarez v. Autozone Stores, Inc., Case No. 3:08-cv-00417 (S.D. Cal.)