In what is one of the largest awards awarded to a plaintiff in a pregnancy discrimination case, a jury has awarded one California woman $185 million in punitive damages after she was fired and demoted for complaining about gender and pregnancy discrimination.
In 2005, Rosario Juarez, a manager at an Autozone in National City, California, announced to her supervisor that she was pregnant. She says her announcement was met with disapproval, her district manager even saying to her, “I feel sorry for you. Congratulations.”
Juarez says that immediately after her announcement, her district manager began harassing her regarding her pregnancy, telling Juarez that her pregnancy would prevent her from meeting her sales goals and performing at a satisfactory level. Even after Juarez proved her manager wrong by being an exemplary employee and exceeding her sales goals, she was demoted and then terminated from her position.
Juarez’ attorneys originally asked for $160 million in punitive damages. The jury awarded Juarez an additional $25 million in punitive damages. “Hopefully, this verdict sends a loud and clear message to AutoZone that the company is not above the law and must treat working mothers with dignity and respect… Punitive damages at this level send a clear message to the board of directors: pay attention,” said Juarez’s attorney, Lawrance Bohm.
While the amount of punitive damages is highly unusual and may be reversed on appeal, the Autozone case has shown us that there is a low tolerance in California for employers who willingly discriminate against their pregnant employees. There are many laws in California that are set up to protect pregnant employees from discrimination in the workplace. If you are pregnant and fear that you may be demoted or terminated because of your pregnancy, you should contact an experienced employment law attorney to determine your legal options.