In Wake of Harris, Jury Awards $21.7 Million to Disabled Employee in Discrimination Case

Despite the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Harris v. City of Santa Monica, discussed in detail here, in which the Court stated that plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases must prove discrimination was a “substantial factor motivating a termination of employment, and when the employer proves it would have made the same decision absent such discrimination, a court may not award damages, backpay, or an order of reinstatement,”  a Los Angeles jury awarded $21.7 million–including $16.5 million in punitive damages–to a terminated employee who alleged she was fired on account of mental disability.

In this case, Rodriguez v. Valley Vista Services Inc. et al., BC 473793 (L.A. County Super. Ct., filed Nov. 18, 2011), in which trial was delayed so that the parties could revise jury instructions in light of the Harris decision, the defendant sought to avoid liability by claiming it had a legitimate business reason for its termination of plaintiff:  she was absent and failed to call in to work for three days.

In spite of this alleged legitimate business reason, and in spite of Harris, the jury nevertheless awarded the plaintiff what may be the largest employment-related award of its kind in Los Angeles legal history, finding that the company’s reason for termination was simply not credible.


Bernstein & Friedland, P.C. is a boutique employment law firm in Los Angeles specializing in wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and unpaid wage and overtime matters.  Please visit our website at to learn more about us.

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