$8M California Wrongful Termination Verdict for Framed Worker

Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyers know there are many reasons employers seek to shed workers they view as problematic. California is an at-will state when it comes to employment, meaning barring an employment contract stating otherwise, an employee can quite or be fired for almost any reason. However, when employers take adverse employment action against workers for prejudice despite protected status or for engaging in certain protected activity, this can be legally actionable in an employment lawsuit. Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyer

One of those protected activities is filing a claim for workers’ compensation. If you are hurt or become sick because of an incident or some condition at work, you don’t have the option of suing your employer. Instead, the exclusive remedy to which you have access is workers’ compensation, which allows for no-fault benefits, such as coverage of medical expenses, lost wages and work training. If an employer retaliates against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim by firing you, this is a form of wrongful termination.

This is what allegedly happened to a worker in Fresno. The case, as reported by The Fresno Bee, is somewhat unique for the steps allegedly taken by the employer in order to justify the reportedly unlawful action of California wrongful termination. It is for this reason jurors justified an $8 million damage award after siding with plaintiff in this case.

Plaintiff Wrongly Accused, Wrongly Terminated in California, Fights Back

In 2005, plaintiff was accused of stealing more than $600 in cash from the safe at the restaurant she’d managed for a decade. Her bosses alleged she was being fired after the alleged theft was caught on the company’s surveillance video. However, when plaintiff immediately sought to review the alleged evidence, she was told by the company’s attorney it had been destroyed.

With the help of her California wrongful termination attorneys, she filed an employment lawsuit against the corporation, insisting she was a thief. Rather, she was the victim of fraud, an effort to defame in her in order to justify firing her in retaliation for filing a claim of workers’ compensation after she was diagnosed with work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.

Further, that $8 million in damages she was owed? Those are just compensatory, meaning they are intended to compensate her for her loss. She could receive much more in the second phase of the trial, which will ascertain punitive damages, intended to punish the defendant for wrongful acts. Although punitive damages aren’t allowed in all or even a majority of employment lawsuits, Los Angeles wrongful termination lawyers can explain they are allowed when defendants act in ways reprehensible, to serve as a deterrent. Jurors in this case determined in the first phase of the bifurcated trial plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages for the way it acted with malice in firing her, but the second phase will determine how much the defendant will be required to pay.

Initially, the corporation offered to settle this wrongful termination complaint for a measly $1,000. This is an example of why it’s always a good idea to first talk to an experienced Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney before accepting any settlement offer from your employer. At trial, plaintiff attorneys asked for jurors to award her $10 million.

Attorneys for the store said three people who worked for the company did review the video, and that management felt “betrayed” after it had “supported” her through numerous pregnancies and work injury claims. Mind you: Companies do not support employees in these instances out of the goodness of their hearts. They do so, as our Los Angeles employment attorneys can explain, because it is the law.

It was the argument of the company that plaintiff, who has nine children, had fallen on hard times, had taken out loans from relatives, moved from a house to a small apartment and took on a second job to keep up with the bills.

But none of this, plaintiff attorneys pointed out, makes her a thief. The truth of the matter is, many people live paycheck-to-paycheck. Furthermore, plaintiff was receiving outstanding reviews, earning $70,000 and was in talks for a promotion wherein she could earn as much as $100,000 annually.

The theft claim was ridiculous, Paboojian said, because company officials had repeatedly given Ortiz outstanding performance reviews during her 14 years with the company. She was making $70,000 a year as a general manager and company officials had talked about promoting her to a position that would have paid her at least $100,000, he said.

Spoliation of Evidence in a Civil Case

The review of the video evidence of theft – and its destruction – occurred while plaintiff was on medical leave for her work-related wrist injury. Testimony regarding that alleged footage also didn’t make sense, plaintiff attorney asserted, because it was alleged she “looked over her shoulder” after taking money out of the safe. This would make no sense, plaintiff said, considering she knew the video surveillance camera would have been situated directly above her.

In addition to destruction of the video footage of the theft, corporate officials also deleted text messages they shared with each other in regard to her termination.

This type of spoiliation of evidence can be actionable in litigation when they might have helped the opposing side.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.

Additional Resources:

Fresno jury says Chipotle owes former manager $7.97 million for wrongful termination, May 10, 2018, By Pablo Lopez, The Fresno Bee

More Blog Entries:

How Do I Know if I Was Wrongfully Terminated in California?, Oct. 28, 2018, Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer Blog

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