A jury has unanimously ordered AutoZone to pay more than $185 million after a San Diego woman says she was demoted and fired because of her gender.
Jurors initially awarded Rosario Juarez nearly $873,000 for past wages, future wages and emotional distress. But on Monday after a more than eight-year court battle, a jury's verdict ordered the auto parts retailer to pay a total of $185 million in punitive damages.
"[I'm] excited because the jurors gave a good verdict," said Juarez, "not because of the money, but mainly to teach them a lesson and make sure they don't do it again."
In December 2000, Juarez was hired as a retail sales associate at the AutoZone store at 2500 Plaza Boulevard East in National City, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court. She was promoted to parts sales manager in April 2001 and store manager in October 2004, but only after complaining to Human Resources, she alleges.
"First she had to fight to get a promotion to store manager," said her attorney Lawrance Bohm. "When she got it, she saw the men were treated differently. When she got pregnant, she was terrified to tell her boss."
According to the complaint, when Juarez became pregnant in September 2005, the district manager pressured her to step down from her store manager post. She was demoted in February 2006 and ultimately fired in November 2011 after an envelope of money from the cash register went missing.
The jury determined Juarez was let go because she is a woman and AutoZone did not take steps to prevent discrimination.
"I know there's a lot of women out there who've been through, or it's similar to what I've been through, and they need to get their strength and say, 'Yes, I will go for the 100 miles,'" said Juarez.
In a brief email to NBC 7 Monday evening, AutoZone spokesperson Ray Pohlman said the company plans to appeal.
Court documents say AutoZone argued Juarez's attorney violated a judge's order and that Juarez's financial information was irrelevant, prejudicial and would violate due process.