A federal jury in California ruled Nov. 17 that retail auto giant AutoZone Stores Inc. must pay $185 million in punitive damages to Rosario Juarez, a former employee who claims she experienced gender and pregnancy discrimination while working for the company.
“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,” said Lawrance Bohm, Juarez’s attorney.
Demotion and Firing
Juarez held a management position at a San Diego County store in 2005. She says that when she told a district manager about her pregnancy, she was demoted.
She alleges that he responded “Congratulations … I guess,” when she informed him, adding “I feel sorry for you.” She says her employers then began complaining about her performance soon after, eventually demoting her.
When in 2006 she filed a lawsuit challenging her demotion, she was fired.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is unlawful to discriminate in hiring, firing, promotions and demotions based on an employee’s pregnancy.
AutoZone claimed in the trial that Juarez was fired not because of her pregnancy, but because she lost $400 in cash.
A loss prevention officer for the store, however, testified that Juarez was never a suspect of any wrongdoing and that she believed the company had unfairly targeted Juarez.
AutoZone said it will appeal the decision. According to AutoZone spokesman Ray Pohlman, “We believe this verdict could not be based on the evidence or logic, and we plan to proceed with all legal remedies.”
AutoZone has more than 5,000 stores throughout the United States, Mexico and Brazil. It had a reported $9.5 billion in income for the 12 months preceding Aug. 30.