EMPLOYER ZONES OUT « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Auto Zone Ordered to Pay $185 Million in Gender Discrimination and Retaliation Case

As an example of the destruction that can result from an employer’s neglect of effective prevention training for supervisors and managers, international retailer Auto Zone has fought a losing battle for nearly a decade attempting to defend a California gender discrimination and retaliation suit. The company is currently on the hook for over $185,000,000 in punitive damages, $25,000,000 more than former employee Rosario Juarez requested to make an example of Auto Zone manager conduct as well as this employer’s failure to prevent or curb such behavior.

Auto Zone hired San Diego retail salesperson Juarez in 2000, promoting her to parts sales manager in April 2001. According to Juarez, the company then denied her requested store manager promotion despite her exemplary performance and her direct manager’s recommendation. She claims her efforts to advance were continuously thwarted by a “glass ceiling,” asserting that out of nearly 100 regional store locations, only 10 had female managers. Juarez also claimed the Auto Zone directed its district managers to stop promoting women to store manager, to dramatically reduce the number of women promoted, and to remove existing female managers.

Auto Zone later promoted Juarez to store manager after she threatened to sue. After Juarez became pregnant in September 2005, her district manager allegedly harassed her–such as by telling her she could not handle her job–and urged her to step down from her store manager position.

In February 2006, despite her complaining about unfair treatment, Auto Zone demoted Juarez. After she filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on January 25, 2007, Auto Zone terminated her on November 20, 2008, claiming she was responsible for a “missing” cash envelope.

In November, 2014, a federal court jury found that Juarez’s pregnancy or gender was a substantial motivating reason for Auto Zone’s demotion and termination and that Auto Zone retaliated against her for complaining about her mistreatment, and that the company was responsible for failing to “take all reasonable steps” to prevent its managers from discriminating and retaliating against Juarez.

The jury unanimously awarded Juarez more than $872,000 for lost earnings and emotional distress. To discourage future wrongful conduct, the jury also unanimously determined that $185 million was the amount necessary to punish Auto Zone for its misconduct — $25 million more than Juarez’s requested punitive damages amount.

This courtroom war continues on, with Auto Zone’s now pending request for either a new trial or a much-reduced judgment. Regardless of how much Auto Zone will ultimately pay, the case illustrates the exorbitant amounts that can be in play, even in a relatively straightforward discrimination lawsuit brought by one employee.

For larger employers (with 50 or more persons hired, whether employed and/or independently contracted), California mandates that “all reasonable steps” includes effectively delivered supervisory/management anti-harassment training at least once every two years. This of course does not exempt smaller companies from taking viable measures to prevent such personnel management disasters as indicated by the Auto Zone experience.

The Law Offices of Timothy Bowles provides such required training in an interactive seminar format that brings home the fundamentals essential for supervisor maintenance of an harassment-, discrimination- and retaliation-free workplace. During October, November and December, 2015, we are delivering our half-day seminars:

• On-site at an employer’s location on available date(s) for a flat fee; and

• At the Pasadena Senior Center, beginning 10:00 a.m. on Friday, October 30, 2015 and on Friday, November 20, 2015, by reserved seating, $65 per attendee.

For more information about our harassment prevention training or workplace forms and policies, please contact Tim Bowles, Cynthia Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Cindy Bamforth, October 23, 2015