A woman, demoted and then fired after telling her former California employer she was pregnant, recently received $900,000 in compensatory damages in a lawsuit against AutoZone. The company also must pay $185 million in punitive damages – an award that exceeded the plaintiff’s highest expectations by $25 million.
Evidence in the AutoZone trial convinced the jury the auto parts retailer blatantly and gleefully discriminated against women. The plaintiff was employed as an AutoZone store manager in National City. She had been in the management position about a year in 2005 when she revealed to her district supervisor she was pregnant.
The supervisor allegedly congratulated the woman and simultaneously said he was sorry for her. The woman said, soon after, the company changed its attitude toward her.
She was assigned twice as many duties as she had in the past, including frivolous tasks. Despite meeting all the company’s demands, the female employee was criticized repeatedly, with comments that insinuated “her condition” hindered job performance.
Within months, the woman was demoted. The following year, she filed a formal complaint with the state. She was fired one year later.
Reports said the jury’s decision to punish AutoZone severely came after hearing the testimony of a former district manager. The man said he attended a meeting of AutoZone managers, who cheered the end of an agreement included in the purchase of another auto parts company. The executives were thrilled the agreement to promote females had ended.
The ex-manager told the court AutoZone offered to promote him if he could rid his stores of female employees. The jury agreed claims of wrongful dismissal and gender and pregnancy discrimination were valid. The defendant plans to appeal.
Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants who are responsible for shockingly poor behavior. Civil courts also award punitive damages to send a powerful message to others who engage in illegal employment practices like discrimination.
Source: Redding Record Searchlight, “Jury awards mother more than $185M in damages in pregnancy discrimination case against AutoZone” Michael Chen, Nov. 19, 2014