San Diego jury awards woman $186 million in bias case against AutoZone

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2014 8:34 PM

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A federal jury in California awarded nearly $186 million to a San Diego area woman who sued AutoZone Inc. saying she was demoted and fired after being told pregnant women can't do the job of managing a store, her attorney said on Tuesday.

"This is the third or fourth time they've been hit with punitive damages for doing the same thing," said attorney Sean Simpson, who is part of the legal team representing plaintiff Rosario Juarez, 43. "Let's hope they get the message."

The award by a six-person jury, which follows a two-week trial, includes $872,720 in compensatory damages and another $185 million in punitive damages. Simpson said he expected the damage award to be substantially reduced on appeal.

Representatives for the auto parts retailer did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email. But company spokesman Ray Pohlman told the San Diego Union Tribune that the company intends to appeal.

According to the complaint, Juarez was hired by AutoZone in 2000 as a customer service representative at a store south of San Diego. In April 2001, she was promoted to parts sales manager and in October 2004 to store manager.

Then in September 2005, Juarez became pregnant with the first of her two children.

The district manager told her she could not handle the demands of the job and urged her to return to parts sales throughout her pregnancy, the complaint said. After her son was born, Juarez was demoted and took a pay cut.

After she waited the required year from the demotion to seek her former job, the district manager refused to promote her, and she was terminated in 2008, the complaint said. By then, she had filed claims with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the complaint added.

At trial, a former district manager testified that an AutoZone vice president berated him for having so many women in management positions, saying: "What are we running here, a boutique? Get rid of those women."

The jury ruled that the harassment against Juarez was "severe and pervasive," and found unanimously that she was discriminated against and later fired because of her pregnancy, according to the verdict form. 

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)