In one of the first tests of Harris v. The City of Santa Monica, a Los Angeles jury awarded the plaintiff in an employment discrimination case a record $21.7 million.
In Rodriguez v. Valley Vista Services Inc., BC 473793 (Los Angeles Super. Ct.), the jury found that the defendant, Valley Vista Services, discriminated against the plaintiff, April Rodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez suffered from panic attacks and maintained that the defendant failed to accommodate her mental disability. Valley Vista argued that it fired Ms. Rodriguez for performance-based reasons because she failed to call for three days.
Under the California Supreme Court’s decision in Harris, the jury was instructed that, in order to support a verdict for Ms. Rodriguez, it would have to find discrimination was a “substantial” factor in Valley Vista’s decision to fire Ms. Rodriguez. Finding that Valley Vista’s assertions of lawful motives for Ms. Rodriguez’s termination not credible, the jury awarded Ms. Rodriguez $5.2 million in compensatory damages. The jury also determined that the employer had acted with malice and awarded Ms. Rodriguez $16.5 million in punitive damages as well.