A former employee who won a $185 million verdict against the AutoZone company now says she might accept a much lower amount to avoid a long legal fight.
Rosario Juarez made that comment after Federal Magistrate Judge William Gallo urged both sides to reach a compromise and settle the case before he issues a ruling on AutoZone’s request for a new trial or a much-reduced judgment.
Juarez was awarded $185 million in November after she sued her former employer, claiming she was demoted from her job as store manager and fired because of her gender. The jury determined she was indeed let go because she is a woman and that AutoZone did not take steps to prevent discrimination.
During Wednesday morning’s three-hour hearing at the downtown federal courthouse, AutoZone’s attorney Nancy Pritikin claimed that Juarez’s legal team had inappropriate contact with a jury during the case and wrongly urged jurors not to talk to defense attorneys after the trial.
Pritikin also argued that the jury was motivated by “passion and prejudice” against AutoZone and that the verdict was not supported by the evidence.
Juarez’s lawyers disagreed. They said the jurors had already been removed from the case when they talked with her briefly and that no details about the case were discussed.
The AutoZone lawyers told the court that the $185 million in punitive damages awarded to Juarez are “grossly excessive,” compared to the $870,000 she was originally awarded for lost wages and pain and suffering.
But Juarez’s attorney, Lawrance Bohm, said the jury’s decision was fair, given the “extremely reprehensible” conduct engaged in by AutoZone executives against his client.
Judge Gallo said he will study the evidence and arguments and issue a decision at a later date. He did indicate that he might reduce the punitive damages to about $9 million, or approximately ten times the award Juarez got for lost wages and pain and suffering.
Judge Gallo urged both sides to try and settle the case before he issues his ruling. He reminded the attorneys that both sides have strengths and weaknesses in their arguments and that the case could continue on appeal for years if a compromise isn’t reached.
Outside court, Juarez and her attorney both said they are interested in settlement talks and will accept less than the jury’s verdict. Attorneys for AutoZone refused to answer reporters’ questions about Wednesday’s hearing or the possibility of settlement talks.
Juarez was hired by AutoZone in December 2000 as a retail sales associate for a National City store. She was promoted to parts sales manager in April 2001 and store manager in October 2004, but only after she complained to human resources, according to her complaint.
But when Juarez became pregnant in September 2005, her district manager pressured her to step down from her store manager post, she said. Juarez was demoted in February 2006, and when money went missing from a cast register, she ultimately fired in November 2011.