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Jury awards record amount to California woman fired for pregnancy

The U.S. Magistrate in San Diego Federal Court called the jury award of $186 million to a woman who accused AutoZone Inc of wrongful termination record breaking in the annals of U.S. employment discrimination cases. The jury reached its verdict after deliberating for under two days after an eight-day trial. Damages awarded to the 43-year-old woman were $870,000 plus $185 million to punish her employer.

The case was based on the woman's complaint that she was demoted and then fired by AutoZone after telling her employer she was pregnant. She had worked at the company since 1999, starting as a cashier and rising to the position of store manager. The company said that she was fired for stealing $400, but that was based on the report of a loss prevention specialist who later admitted in court that she had been told to target the woman.

Lawyers for AutoZone requested a new trial in San Diego Federal Court. Allegations that the defense contacted a juror during the trial and claims that the verdict was based on raw emotion were given as reasons for overturning the first verdict.

In general, the law supports holding employers responsible for damages when an employee is wrongfully terminated. People have a right not to be fired for retaliation against complaints of mistreatment. When someone believes he or she was wrongfully discharged, an attorney might be able to help the person assess the evidence and see if it could support a discrimination lawsuit. Damages that may be recoverable from a discriminating employer include lost wages and long-term damage to someone's career path and earning potential.

Source: Reuters, "AutoZone seeks retrial in $186 mln discrimination case," Marty Graham, March 4, 2015

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