A former human resources employee of Amazon not only won $300,000 in a California employment lawsuit alleging disparate treatment, she was also awarded $2 million in attorneys’ fees.
The Orange County Register reports the Los Angeles Superior Court granted the 34-year-old plaintiff nearly $2.5 million in attorneys’ fees in a hearing following a favorable verdict in October on claims of wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to engage in the interactive process, and violation of the California Family Rights Act. (She did not prevail on other claims for disability discrimination and pregnancy discrimination.) The attorneys’ fees awarded are about $1 million less than what plaintiff’s lawyers sought, but far more than the $630,000 defense lawyers argued they should receive.
According to court records, plaintiff testified during the trial that her bosses at an Amazon Fresh facility in Southern California were initially supportive when she asked for accommodations to help her get through pregnancy-related bouts of nausea and morning sickness. However, when she asked for additional coaching that would allow her to be more effective, they became less receptive and ultimately shut her down.
Plaintiff was pregnant with her third child, and “didn’t want to be labeled a complainer” – or especially to lose her job.
Attorneys for her former employer argued that plaintiff arbitrarily – and systematically – began not showing up to work after announcing her pregnancy three months after being hired. Her supervisors alleged she missed 20 days over a six-month period, though she allegedly never sought permission and, in some cases, failed to tell her supervisors or co-workers that she wouldn’t be there.
Plaintiff, who is from Santa Ana, reportedly asked for severance – and then rejected it and chose not to work – after she was informed there would be an investigation into her conduct, defense lawyers said.
Plaintiff, however, maintains she powered through months of nausea and back pain during her commute to show up for work every day – yet was fired just days before she was scheduled to take her maternity leave. This was despite her bosses saying they would support her working from home, noting she could carry out the same tasks on a laptop at home as she normally did at the office. The only thing she’d really miss out on was in-person meetings, but the communication systems in place at Amazon made it easy for her to still participate – and help employees as she normally did, while still working remotely.
However, when she returned from taking some medical leave, her boss reportedly seemed upset with the frequency of her medical appointments. The boss urged yoga and positivity – but seemed reticent to accommodate doctor visits. He also questioned whether she was even legally entitled to the amount of maternity leave she planned to take. Then, days before she was scheduled to begin her maternity leave, she was fired.
Now, she has not only prevailed in her California employment lawsuit, but has been awarded attorney’s fees as well.
When Are Employment Lawsuit Defendants Responsible for Attorneys’ Fees?
In general, the “American rule” holds that each side is responsible for their own attorney’s fees. However, there are exceptions – particularly when it comes to California employment litigation.
Courts can compel employer defendants to pay employee plaintiff attorney’s fees in the following types of cases:
- Minimum wage/unpaid overtime claims. Specifically, this refers to claims brought under California Labor Code section 1194.
- Unsuccessful appeals of Labor Commission claims. If an employer unsuccessfully appeals a decision by the Labor Commission, they can be compelled to pay the employee’s attorney’s fees for necessary services during the process.
- Claims under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Specifically, this statute protects against harassment and discrimination in employment based on protected categories and/or retaliation for protesting illegal discrimination. Where a plaintiff prevails on such claims, their attorney’s fees may be paid by the defense. (Note: The fee-shifting provision can go both ways, with employees compelled to pay attorney’s fees of the employer – but only if the person’s claim was found to be unreasonable, frivolous, vexations, or meritless. An experienced employment law attorney will be able to advise you against pursuit of such claims from the very start.)
If you are considering filing an employment lawsuit in Southern California, we can help.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
Santa Ana woman who sued Amazon and won $300,000 gets $2 million for attorney fees, April 9, 2022, Orange County Register