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In pregnancy discrimination case, jury returns $185 million punitive damages verdict against AutoZone

Last month in California, a federal jury found that AutoZone discriminated against Rosario Juarez, a former employee, because she was pregnant.  The jury awarded Juarez $872,000 for the damages she suffered plus $185 million in punitive damages.

Juarez claimed that AutoZone demoted her from her management position in 2006 after she informed the company that she was pregnant.  Juarez told her district manager that she was pregnant and, according to her, he said “congratulations…I guess” and then said “I feel sorry for you.”  AutoZone claimed that it demoted her because she misplaced $400 in cash.  But the loss prevention officer who investigated the missing money said that he did not think Juarez was to blame for the missing money.

Pregnancy discrimination is unlawful under Maine and federal law.  In Maine, if a jury returned a verdict of $185 million in punitive damages, damage caps in the Maine Human Rights Act would require the court to reduce the award to, at most, $500,000.  While this may seem like a lot of money, to a company like AutoZone–which reportedly pulled in $9.5 billion in revenue between August 2013 and August 2014–$500,000 does not have much of an effect.

Unlike Maine, there are no damage caps in California’s employment discrimination law.  Thus, Juarez will likely get to keep far more of the $185 million in punitive damages than she would have if she had been discriminated against while working at a Maine AutoZone store.