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).