Woman Overcomes Numerous Obstacles to Win $4.65 Million
Finding direct evidence of retaliation in an employment discrimination case is rare. But Denise Steffens was able to overcome this notoriously painful obstacle in a case against her employer Regus Group. She was fired for complaining that employees did not receive meal and rest breaks. Surprisingly, her supervisor came forward with evidence that that he was told to fire her. Denise Steffens had met with her supervisor and a regional vice president and complained about the meal and rest break policy. The regional vice president stopped talking, left the meeting, and told the supervisor that Steffens was not a team player and that she needed to be fired. Then the employer started Steffens on an action plan that was impossible to meet. When she was unable to meet the obstacles, she was fired. She eventually lost her home and filed for bankruptcy after not being able to find employment. Steffens sued, alleging wrongful termination in violation of public policy. But then she had to undergo the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, and then a trip to the Ninth Circuit before the appellate court sent the case back. Ultimately, her case got to a jury, and when it did the jury returned a verdict of about $4.65 million, including $3.5 million in punitive damages.
The moral of the story — you need help finding direct evidence of discrimination because your employer (usually former employer) won’t help you find anything easily. Even getting a copy of your personnel file can be difficult, much less having them willfully hand over evidence of retaliation.
Nonetheless, Denise Steffens was represented by Cindy Panuco and Dan Stormer of Pasadena, California. In an interview reported in Trial magazine, Stormer said “it’s a huge verdict for the conservative [area]. It sends a message to employers that jurors will hold them liable for bad conduct.” An attorney experienced in employment law cases can help.
Source: Courtney Davenport, “Woman Prevails in Retaliation Suit Despite Obstacles,” Trial Magazine, October 2013.