NATIONAL CITY, CALIFORNIA (11/18/14) – Former AutoZone manager, Ms. Rosario Juarez of San Ysidro, California, filed suit against AutoZone after the company demoted her once she notified an AutoZone district manager that she was pregnant and later fired her.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the first hint of trouble began when Ms. Juarez announced her pregnancy to an AutoZone district manager in 2005, and in response, he cryptically replied by telling her, “I feel sorry for you.”
Then the company began treating her differently.
Immediately after AutoZone got wind of her pregnancy, her supervisor mentioned that as a pregnant woman, she should step down from her position because of doubts that she could handle the position while pregnant. Ms. Juarez refused to step down.
Even after giving birth to her son, she still suffered continual harassment. At this point, in 2006, AutoZone demoted Ms. Juarez to a lower spot on the totem pole, parts sales manager.
According to the complaint, the harassment continued after she gave birth to her son, at which time she was demoted to parts sales manager in 2006.
Once Ms. Juarez began to work in the position she was demoted to, AutoZone retaliated by ordering employees in the store she worked in to go on a campaign to discredit Ms. Juarez’s work performance and challenge her honestly.
As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, once Ms.Juarez started working as a parts sales manager, she received additional negative disparate treatment, such as being yelled at and humiliated in front of coworkers, being told to report at work for extra-long hours, and being made to redo work that was originally fine. Her complaints to upper management went nowhere.
When she decided to challenge the demotion by filing a lawsuit, AutoZone abruptly fired her shortly after her first deposition.
A federal jury ruled that AutoZone’s demotion of Ms. Juarez was unlawful and that her firing stemmed from discrimination because she was pregnant, and as retaliation for filing the lawsuit.
The Los Angeles Times reported that an attorney representing AutoZone claimed to the court that Ms. Juarez was fired because she was accused of misplacing $400. He stated that it had nothing to do with her pregnancy.
Unfortunately for the defense, testimony from the loss prevention officer who actually handled the missing $400 investigation, stated that Ms. Juarez was never a suspect and also candidly stated that she too believed that AutoZone directed a negative campaign against Ms. Juarez.
After hearing testimony for 2 weeks, the jury unanimously found AutoZone to be liable on all of the counts, which included retaliation, failure to prevent harassment, and gender/pregnancy discrimination.
The California jury ruled in Ms. Juarez’s favor and ordered AutoZone to pay her punitive damages in the amount of $185 million. This award is in addition to the compensatory damages of $872,000 awarded by the jury to Ms. Juarez a week before.
An AutoZone spokesperson stated that they are going to appeal this decision.