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California Jury Awards $185 million in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Nov 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Pregnancy Discrimination Act, or PDA forbids companies from discriminating against employees based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment including hiring, firing, promotions and demotions. The PDA was the center of Rosario Juarez's lawsuit against her employer, AutoZone, who demoted Jaurez in 2006 after she became pregnant. On November 17, 2014, a California jury ruled in her favor, ordering the auto parts retailer to pay her $185 million in punitive damages and $873,000 in compensatory damages, for lost wages and emotional stress.

Pregnancy discrimination1

Background

Juarez was hired by AutoZone in 2000 as a customer services representative and was promoted to parts sales manager in 2001. After requests for promotion, and complaints to the human resources department, she was promoted to store manager in 2004. 

She became pregnant in 2005, and according to her testimony, her boss continually suggested she step down because she couldn't handle the responsibilities of the job while with child. She refused, and according to court records, the harassment continued once she gave birth to her son, and she was demoted to parts sales manager in 2006. Attorneys for AutoZone claim she was demoted for poor performance, noting that she needed improvement in many areas and was not meeting expectations.

In her new position, Juarez said she was asked to work extra-long hours, ordered to redo work for no reason and was humiliated and yelled at in front of co-workers. She said her complaints about the situation went nowhere. She filed her lawsuit in 2008 and a month after she gave her deposition, she was fired.

Resolution

After two-weeks of testimony, the jury on November 14, 2014, unanimously held AutoZone liable on all counts, including gender/pregnancy discrimination, retaliation and failure to prevent harassment.  On Monday, November 17, 2014,  the jury awarded Juarez $185 million, concluding the punitive phase. It is arguably the largest employment law verdict for an individual in U.S. history.

Other Legislation Dealing with Pregnancy Discrimination

Even though the $185 million verdict that AutoZone plans to appeal may not survive, it underscores the importance of training managers and human resources personnel about appropriate treatment of pregnant personnel. It also brings to light the various pregnancy discrimination related efforts at the national level, including:

  • Pregnancy discrimination has been a key focus of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) Strategic Enforcement Plan and earlier this year, the EEOC issued an Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues.  
  • Soon, even the Supreme Court of the United States will weigh in on this topic. The Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the case of Young v. UPS on December 3, 2014. The UPS case involves whether pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations for work restrictions under the PDA, similar to those that employers must provide to disabled employees under the ADA. By comparison to the ADA, the PDA does not directly address accommodations to pregnant workers, but the question might be resolved by the Supreme Court in UPS.
  • Lastly,  Congress has introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would amend the existing law and require all employers to grant reasonable accommodation for work limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. If the Supreme Court fails to offer clarity, the Act, should it pass, might do so.

Proving discrimination can be challenging, but with the right legal team, it can be done.  There are a variety of ways that the qualified California lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley can assist you.  Take the first step to protecting yourself and stopping this hurtful and illegal behavior.  Take advantage of a free initial consultation to discuss your specific case by calling the toll free number (888) 500-8469or click here to contact us regarding your case.

About the Author

Eric Kingsley

In practice since 1996, attorney and firm co-founder Eric B. Kingsley has litigated complex cases and authored numerous appellate briefs in both state and federal court on behalf of the California law firm of Kingsley & Kingsley, including over 150 class actions. Mr. Kingsley concentrates his pra...

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