Carney Shegerian of Shegerian & Associates, Inc., a Santa Monica-based litigation law firm specializing in employee rights, obtained a record-setting wrongful termination jury verdict today for his client. April Rodriguez was awarded $16.5 million in punitive damages by a Los Angeles jury that found her former employer discriminated against her because of a mental disability and wrongfully fired her, bringing her total award to $21.7 million – the largest employment related award of its kind in Los Angeles legal history.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury reached an 11-1 decision in the punitive damages portion of Rodriguez’s lawsuit against City of Industry-based Valley Vista Services Inc. and its parent company, Zerep Management Corp. On Wednesday, the same jury had awarded the 34-year-old Rancho Cucamonga woman $5.2 million in compensatory damages. The jury also found that the companies, owned by former Industry Mayor David Perez and his brother, Manuel Perez, acted with malice.
Rodriguez’s attorneys maintained the waste disposal company, where the mother of four worked as a customer service representative, failed to help her with her condition by granting her leave time and other accommodations. Rodriguez testified she suffered from panic attacks – met with skepticism by her supervisor – and was fired as a result, causing her extreme financial hardship.
“Justice was served,” said Rodriguez, after the award was announced. “Not only for myself but for others who are going through what I went through, so that they know what their legal rights are in situations like these.”
She said she hopes her case brings public attention to the fact that panic attacks are a genuine mental disability and employers should treat workers fairly and without discrimination.
The mother of four credited the work of the jury and her attorneys for helping her win the case: “Most of all,” she said, “I would love to thank my lawyers Carney Shegerian and Bruce Kokozian. If it wasn’t for the hard work that they put into my case, I would have never gotten justice. Because of them, my story was heard.”
“It’s an honor to have had the opportunity to represent Ms. Rodriguez,” said Shegerian. “She is an excellent example of a segment of our employee population in the US that has historically been wrongfully discriminated against. Hopefully this verdict and the justice served in Ms. Rodriguez’s case will put employers on notice that they cannot discriminate against employees who suffer from health or mental health conditions.”