On November 17, 2014, the jury in Juarez v. AutoZone Stores, Inc. tacked on $185 million in punitive damages to its previous award of $872,719 for lost past earnings ($393,759.52), lost future earnings ($228,960), and emotional distress ($250,000). Lawrence A. Bohm of Bohm Law Group in Sacramento, California, who represented Ms. Juarez, said that the jury’s award to his client was “the most ever awarded to a single employee.”
In her complaint, plaintiff Rosario Juarez alleges that she had been abruptly promoted to the position of Store Manager after she had told her Human Resources regional manager that she was considering legal action because she believed that AutoZone consistently promoted far fewer women than men and paid them less than their male counterparts for the same work. The Defendant allegedly created a “glass ceiling” through an “opaque promotion process,” intentionally and with malice according to the jury.
Then, in September 2005, Juarez became pregnant, at which time her manager’s attitude toward her changed. He told her that she could not handle her job because she was pregnant, and that she should step down from her Store Manager position, which she refused to do. The same manager allegedly continued to harass her, telling her she should step down, that she could not be a mother and handle her job, and ultimately managed to get her demoted back to her previous Parts Sales Manager (PSM) position. She was told that she could be considered for a Store Manager position again after one year, but after one year actually passed they instead terminated her from her position as a PSM. Her termination The official reason for her termination was that she had been blamed for losing $400 in cash, but in the end the jury agreed with Ms. Juarez that her termination was due to gender discrimination and retaliation for filing this lawsuit.
AutoZone’s legal and human resources departments failed to investigate Juarez’s complaint about her manager’s harassment, and even destroyed all the evidence of her comiplaint. The plaintiff argued, and the jury found, that this was consistent with the company’s “division-wide effort to reduce the number of female managers.” For example, Plaintiff alleges, AutoZone’s Western Division Vice President of Operations once said “what are we running here, a boutique? Get rid of those women.”
In addition to these allegations, the Juarez also successfully argued that she had lost substantial wages due to unpaid overtime. She claimed that the company knowingly maintained policies that had the effect of forcing managers to spend much of their time helping customers, which in turn required them to spend many off-the-clock, uncompensated hours keeping up with their managerial duties.
It is likely that the total amount of the award will end up getting reduced, but it should certainly send a message to the company about the jury’s evaluation of its policies regarding pregnancy and gender discrimination.
If you believe you an employer has discriminated against you based on pregnancy or gender, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.