One former AutoZone employee has been vindicated in a big way, after filing suit for gender and pregnancy discrimination. After being awarded $872,719 for lost earnings and emotional distress, the jury awarded Ms. Juarez, what is probably "the most ever awarded to a single employee," says her attorney, Lawrence A. Bohm. So, what did AutoZone do that apparently enraged the jury to this degree? Unfortunately, they made a bad situation worse, compounding pregnancy discrimination on gender discrimination.
The story of Rosario Juarez
Rozario Juarez worked as a Parts Sales Manager at AutoZone. She complained to Human Resources that AutoZone consistently promoted substantially more men than women, and paid men more than women for doing the same job. She was almost immediately promoted to Store Manager. Unfortunately, that was not the happy ending Ms. Juarez was hoping for.
Ms. Juarez later became pregnant, which resulted in a drastic change in her manager's attitude toward her. The manager repeatedly told Ms. Juarez that she could not handle her job because of her pregnancy and that she needed to step down. She refused, so he continued to harass her. Eventually, he demoted her back to her previous position, but told her she would be considered for Store Manager again after one year (after her pregnancy). Instead, though, she was terminated.
The jury found evidence of both gender and pregnancy discrimination
With regard to the gender discrimination claims, the jury agreed with Ms. Juarez that AutoZone had created a "glass ceiling" through an "opaque promotion process," and had done so intentionally and with malice. The jury also found that AutoZone failed to investigate Ms. Juarez's complaints about the pregnancy harassment, including destroying evidence of her complaint to Human Resources. The jury took such action to be consistent with the company's "division-wide effort to reduce the number of female managers." This effort at discrimination was further demonstrated by the comment of one of the company's vice presidents who said "what are we running here, a boutique? Get rid of those women."
What does this verdict mean?
Certainly a verdict of this size should send a clear message to, not only AutoZone, but also to other employers that policies regarding pregnancy and gender discrimination, promotion and termination, need to be evaluated. It is possible, however, that this award will be reduced by the court. A jury's verdict tells the corporate defendant that they should pay a substantial amount as punishment. However, juries do not get the final word, and it is common for jury awards like this one to be scaled back significantly.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.