In a decision unsurprising to anyone familiar with what California juries have been up to lately (see our reporting here), fast-food titan Jack in the Box was ordered to pay $15.4 million (including a staggering $10 million in punitive damages) last week in a lawsuit involving age and disability discrimination claims, as well as alleged retaliation and hostile work environment.
The former employee, Blanca Ramirez, alleged that she suffered two job-related injuries and that she was never offered accommodations. Ramirez, age 53 at the time she was discharged, alleged that her boss called her “grandma” in response to the way that she moved around the restaurant.
Ramirez also alleged that Jack in the Box fired her due to her two complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace. Ramirez alleged that she complained about a manager being involved in a “bizarre love-triangle” with two subordinates as well as a 22-year-old supervisor engaging in “serious misconduct” with at least two 16-year-old subordinates.
Jack in the Box denied Ramirez’s allegations and contended it fired Ramirez for manipulating the restaurant’s internal system for measuring “employee performance metrics.” Jack in the Box produced evidence in the form of video images of Ramirez’s alleged actions in that regard. Ramirez’s attorney commented after the verdict: “Jack in the Box in their SEC filing didn’t really mention two sexual harassment complaints my client filed as an employee supervisor. They really screwed this thing up.”
The jury sided with Ramirez, finding that Ramirez’s age was a “substantial motivating reason” for the company’s decision to fire her. The jury also found that she was fired due to her disabilities as well as her complaints about sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. The final verdict came to $15.4 million, with nearly double the amount of punitive damages ($10 million) as compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress ($5.4 million).