Last week, the jury in Juarez v. AutoZone Stores, Inc. (S.D. Cal. 2012), awarded a former employee $872,000.00 in compensatory damages and $185 million in punitive damages due to pregnancy discrimination she suffered at AutoZone. Plaintiff claimed that her supervisor told her he felt sorry for her when she told him she was pregnant. Soon after her announcement, she was demoted, given extra job duties, and eventually fired.
Pregnant workers are protected through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and various state and other federal laws. Although rarely this bad, the AutoZone jury award reminds us that liability for violating these laws can be significant. The employer probably has a good argument that the award should be reduced (either due to statutory caps, on appeal, or because it is not reasonably related to the compensatory damages award), but this verdict sends a clear signal to employers: egregious pregnancy discrimination will not be tolerated.