FEHA discrimination claimed against large clothing manufacturer. $650K. Los Angeles County.

Summary

Garment company mishandles accommodation for long-time worker who suffers disability from lifting heavy boxes.

The Case

  • Case Name: Abarca v. Citizens of Humanity, LLC
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC521900
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, March 09, 2017
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, September 20, 2013
  • Type of Action: Employment, Wrongful Termination
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Frederick C. Shaller
  • Plaintiffs:
    Noe Abarca , 61.
  • Defendants:
    Citizens of Humanity, LLC
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $650,000
  • Punitive Damages:

    $550,000

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Kramer Holcomb Sheik, LLP by Daniel Kramer and Teresa Johnson, Los Angeles.

    Michael Burgis & Associates by Michael Burgis and Zhenia Burgis, Sherman Oaks.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Browne George Ross, LLP by Pete Ross and Benjamin Scheibe, Los Angeles.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Daniel Silver, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Encino. (Treating physician.)

    Marc Nehorayan, M.D., psychiatry, Van Nuys.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Sookyung Chang, Ph.D., psychology, Los Angeles.

    Lorne Label, M.D., neurology, Thousand Oaks.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Michael Robbins, employment practices, Bell Canyon.

     

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Janet Swerdlow, employment practices, Beverly Hills.

    George Kontogouris, economics, Torrance.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff is a 61-year-old Mexican immigrant, who came to the United States in the 1980s, and became a permanent resident under the Reagan amnesty program. A hardworking family man, with six daughters, plaintiff worked for 22 years in a garment factory in downtown Los Angeles to provide for his family. In 2006, he was recruited by Ms. Agustina Manzano to work at Citizens of Humanity, LLC in the Quality Control Department. Citizens of Humanity is a worldwide, high-end jeans company which employs hundreds of workers.

    During the next six years, plaintiff was the only man working in the Quality Control Department. His main job was to unload boxes of jeans off of large pallets which came into the Quality Control Department, so the other workers could inspect the products. Plaintiff would use a pallet jack to drag the pallet over to the Quality Control inspection tables, then lift each box off the pallet for inspection, take the jeans out, and sort them by size.  

    Between 2006 and 2011, plaintiff began to develop pain in his shoulders due to the repetitive lifting, bending, and carrying of boxes and the pallet jack. He spoke to Ms. Manzano, his supervisor, about the pain, and in response she told him to ask others for help, and that he would get fired if he did not do his job. He continued to suffer through the pain. Although his coworkers would occasionally help him, they did not do so consistently, and Ms. Manzano did not follow up with him or report his injury to the HR representative or her immediate supervisor.

    In 2012 plaintiff’s doctor placed him on work restrictions to only lift 15-20 pounds for 30 days. On July 24, 2012, plaintiff presented Ms. Manzano with a doctor’s note. On August 24, 2012, the day his doctor’s note was set to expire, plaintiff’s supervisor made the decision to terminate him. On August 28, 2012, plaintiff was terminated. When called into the HR representative’s office to be fired, plaintiff  signed documents wrongly stating that the date of his injury was August 28, 2012 – the date he was terminated, even though he had been injured well before this date and the company was aware of it.

    Between 2012 and 2014, plaintiff attempted to find work by contacting various manufacturers in the area, going to a temp agency, and filling out applications. However, no one wanted to hire him as he had been labeled “totally temporarily disabled” for purposes of his worker’s compensation claim. As a result, and with money running low, plaintiff picked up cans off the street and recycled them to get money. In 2014, plaintiff suffered a stroke.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Disability discrimination, wrongful termination, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, failure to engage in the interactive process, failure to prevent discrimination, and retaliation.

    That plaintiff signed under duress the document wrongly stating his date of injury; that by forcing plaintiff to sign the government claim forms stating a false date of injury, along with high level management approving bad conduct by supervisors who failed to follow established company policy and procedure for injured workers, defendant had engaged in malice, oppression or fraud for purposes of punitive damages.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Throughout litigation, defendant has failed to accept any liability, and has contested the nature and extent of plaintiff’s injuries and damages arising from his termination.

    At trial defendant relied on five main theories: (1) that plaintiff was a poor performer who was lazy and did not want to do the work; (2) that plaintiff had sexually harassed his coworkers; (3) that plaintiff could not have done the work anyhow because worker’s compensation doctors labeled him “totally temporarily disabled”; (4) that he was not damaged by the termination because he lied to the doctors and the doctors wrote inaccurate reports; and (5) that defendant did reasonably accommodate plaintiff and engage in the interactive process by getting his coworkers to help him lift for years, and by adhering to the doctor’s note.

Additional Notes

Pursuant to an agreement between the parties, trial was bifurcated: Phase I for compensatory damages and Phase II for punitive damages.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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