Contreras-Velazquez v. Family Health Ctrs. of San Diego, Inc., 62 Cal. App. 5th 88 (2021)

Rosario Contreras-Velazquez sued her former employer, Family Health Centers (“FHC”), for disability discrimination after she suffered a work-related injury and was terminated.  A jury found FHC not liable, but the trial court ordered a new trial as to three claims; after the retrial, the jury awarded Contreras-Velazquez $916,645 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, which the trial court reduced to $1.83 million (a 2:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages).  In this appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order reducing the punitive damages award, holding that FHC had engaged in misconduct that was “somewhat or moderately reprehensible” by inflicting emotional and mental distress upon Contreras-Velazquez for which the jury awarded her $750,000 in damages.  However, because the emotional distress damages award was “substantial,” it appears to have contained a punitive element.  “Given all of these factors, we conclude the trial court did not err in determining the constitutional maximum ratio for a punitive damages award was twice the amount of the compensatory damages award.”

See also Briley v. City of W. Covina, 2021 WL 2708945 (Cal. Ct. App. 2021) ($3.5 million emotional distress damages jury award was “shockingly disproportionate to the evidence of harm” and should have been no more than $1.1 million, which is still “high”); Rubio v. CIA Wheel Group, 63 Cal. App. 5th 82 (2021) (deceased employee’s estate was properly awarded $500,000 in punitive damages even though non-economic damages could not be awarded after employee’s death – punitive damages award was properly based upon more than just $15,000 in economic damages).

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Photo of Tony Oncidi Tony Oncidi

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including…

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection. A substantial portion of Tony’s practice involves the defense of employers in large class actions, employment discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination litigation in state and federal court as well as arbitration proceedings, including FINRA matters.

Tony is recognized as a leading lawyer by such highly respected publications and organizations as the Los Angeles Daily JournalThe Hollywood Reporter, and Chambers USA, which gives him the highest possible rating (“Band 1”) for Labor & Employment.  According to Chambers USA, clients say Tony is “brilliant at what he does… He is even keeled, has a high emotional IQ, is a great legal writer and orator, and never gives up.” Other clients report:  “Tony has an outstanding reputation” and he is “smart, cost effective and appropriately aggressive.” Tony is hailed as “outstanding,” particularly for his “ability to merge top-shelf lawyerly advice with pragmatic business acumen.” He is highly respected in the industry, with other commentators lauding him as a “phenomenal strategist” and “one of the top employment litigators in the country.”

“Tony is the author of the treatise titled Employment Discrimination Depositions (Juris Pub’g 2020; www.jurispub.com), co-author of Proskauer on Privacy (PLI 2020), and, since 1990, has been a regular columnist for the official publication of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of California and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Tony has been a featured guest on Fox 11 News and CBS News in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading national media outlets such as The National Law JournalBloomberg News, The New York Times, and Newsweek and Time magazines. Tony is a frequent speaker on employment law topics for large and small groups of employers and their counsel, including the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), PIHRA, the National CLE Conference, National Business Institute, the Employment Round Table of Southern California (Board Member), the Council on Education in Management, the Institute for Corporate Counsel, the State Bar of California, the California Continuing Education of the Bar Program and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills Bar Associations. He has testified as an expert witness regarding wage and hour issues as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and has served as a faculty member of the National Employment Law Institute. He has served as an arbitrator in an employment discrimination matter.

Tony is an appointed Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission Board of Rights and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law and a guest lecturer at USC Law School and a guest lecturer at UCLA Law School.