Employers often assume that they can fire an at-will employee at any time for any reason. This is not entirely true. In California, a company can fire an employee for any reason except for a reason that violates the law. For example, an employer cannot fire an employee for his or her gender. Unfortunately, an employee getting fired for their gender or being pregnant is still common.
In Jaurez v. AutoZone, plaintiff sued AutoZone in San Diego Federal Court for sex discrimination and retaliation under California law. Over the course of her employment, plaintiff noticed that male employees were treated more favorable than female employees. For example, less experience male employees were being promoted more often than female employees. Even though she was very qualified, plaintiff was consistently brushed aside for promotion and inexperienced and unqualified male employees would be promoted instead. Several years into her employment, plaintiff became pregnant and almost instantly adverse action was taken against her by her employer upon her telling the employer the good news. The district manager made snarky comments to her about her being pregnant, nitpicked at all her work, placed her on a performance improvement plan and was even demoted back to assistant manager. She as replaced by a male store manager. She was fired after she returned from maternity leave for allegedly not being trustworthy.
AutoZone’s lawyers argued that there was no evidence to support Plaintiff’s case. AutoZone’s lawyers further argued that Plaintiff was a manipulator who lied and made threats to receive promotions.
Plaintiff presented testimonies and evidence of the contrary. Former employees testified about the aura of retaliation at the company. Another witness testified that the reasons Plaintiff was terminated was unknown to him although he was the employee who was deemed by AutoZone as most knowledgeable about Plaintiff’s termination. Finally, AutoZone did not have any female employees testify as to the fair treatment by the company of female employees.
Fortunately, the jury did not buy defense counsel’s arguments. The jury returned a stunning verdict in favor of Plaintiff awarding her roughly $800,000 in lost wages and emotional distress, and issued an enormous $185,000,000 punitive damages verdict.
At the end of the day, this is huge for employees who have been and potentially will be terminated by their employees for discriminatory reasons. Large corporations such as AutoZone need to be held accountable for breaking the law or else these corporations will keep doing it without any consequences.
While this case is not a typical employment verdict, contact an employment lawyer immediately if you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated. You should not wait as the statute of limitations may waive you case. The firm who represented Plaintiff in this case was the Bohm Law Group, a firm that Mr. Robertson works frequently with on employment cases.