A jury awarded $185 million in punitive damages last month in a lawsuit against retailer AutoZone Stores Inc. It was alleged in the lawsuit that a female employee who complained about gender and pregnancy discrimination was unlawfully demoted and fired. The plaintiff, Rosario Juarez, said she was demoted from a management position at a San Diego County store in 2006 after she became pregnant. The company fired Ms. Juarez after she filed a lawsuit that challenged her demotion. The $185 million in punitive damages awarded was in addition to $872,000 in compensatory damages the jury had awarded Ms. Juarez in the first phase of the trial. AutoZone says it will appeal.
Ms. Juarez said the company started treating her differently after she told a district manager in 2005 that she had become pregnant. She said AutoZone started complaining about performance shortly afterward. Subsequently, the company demoted her. AutoZone’s lawyers argued at trial that Ms. Juarez was fired for misplacing $400 in cash. But a store loss prevention officer who led the investigation for AutoZone, testified at trial that she never suspected Ms. Juarez of wrongdoing and thought the company was targeting her.
AutoZone sells auto and light truck parts and accessories through more than 5,000 stores in the United States, Mexico and Brazil. As of Aug. 30, it had 539 stores in California. The company reported $9.5 billion in revenue in the 12 months ended Aug. 30.
Source: Los Angeles Times
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