California Federal Court Awards $4.6 Million to Employee Fired for Complaining About Cutting Meal and Rest Breaks

Regus Group (“Regus”), a global company that provides office spaces, owes $4.6 million to an employee it fired in retaliation for complaining about its labor violations.

Denise Steffens sued office space provider in March 2010, claiming she was fired after a meeting with her supervisor where she complained about Regus denying meal and rest breaks. Ms. Steffens worked for Regus Group for over a decade, managing a commercial building in San Diego. Within months, she was terminated, purportedly for performance reasons despite just receiving a positive review.

The case has a long procedural history, and Ms. Steffens asserted various claims of discriminatory discharge. However, the claim she ultimately prevailed on was the tort of termination in violation of public policy. After trial, the jury awarded her $296,252 in economic damages, $850,000 in non-economic damages, and $3.5 million in punitive damages. Regus moved for new trial, and the judge said, in overruling its motion, “[t]his case went to trial and Regus lost–badly.

Though this case was in Southern California and New York does not recognize the tort of termination in violation of public policy, New York does have a statute that protects workers who, in good faith, complain about labor law violations such as unpaid wages or unpaid rest breaks. If you believe your employer is violating the New York Labor Law, The Harman Firm, LLP wants to talk to you.