Wrongful termination and religious discrimination result in $1.37 million verdict. Los Angeles County.
Onsite manager for low-income apartment complex is a Jehovah's Witness, claims that supervisors harassed her for a long period of time because of her religous beliefs and later terminated her.
- Case Name: Huron Mayo v. Community Development Commission of Los Angeles
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC486184
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, November 06, 2014
- Date Action was Filed: Thursday, June 07, 2012
- Type of Action: Wrongful Termination
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Steven J. Kleifield
- Plaintiffs: Huron Mayo, 60, apartment manager
- Defendants: Community Development Commission of Los Angeles
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $1,377,112.20
- Award as to each Defendant:
- Economic Damages:
Past Economic Damages: $94,037.40
Future Economic Damages: $188,074.80
- Non-Economic Damages:
Past Non-Economic Loss: $547,500
Future Non-Economic Loss: $547,500
- Punitive Damages:
None (Defendant is a government entity).
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 11 days
- Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day
- Jury Polls: 12-0 (CFRA violation); 11-1 (retaliation, disability discrimination, failure to prevent retaliation, failure to prevent disability discrimination).
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Law Offices of Tamara Freeze by Tamara Freeze, Irvine.
Robert Odell, Irvine.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Law Office of Gregory Kennedy by Gregory Kennedy, Torrance.
- Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
- Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
- Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
Huron Mayo was a 13-year employee with defendant Commission as a resident manager of a low-income apartment complex (“Monica Manor”) in Santa Monica. The Commission owns and operates dozens of low-income housing sites throughout the Los Angeles area and employs 400-500 people who run and manage each site, many as resident managers like plaintiff. Plaintiff began working for the Commission in 1998 and regularly received good performance reviews and awards.
In 2006, after eight years on the job, plaintiff was ordered to report to a new supervisor, Kieshia Nathaniel. For the first three years, plaintiff and her supervisor worked well together.
During the holiday season of 2009 plaintiff asked to be excused from the staff's holiday lunch. Plaintiff and her husband, Alan, are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses. The two practice their faith privately in all respects, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses, as part of their religious practice, do not partake in any holiday or other religious celebrations such as Chanukah, Ramadan, or Christmas.
Plaintiff claimed that after this holiday lunch incident her workplace environment changed for the worse, eventually leading to her going out on stress leave and to her termination in November 2011.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That in December 2009, plaintiff asked her supervisor if she could be excused from the “annual staff luncheon” if, like years past, the luncheon was actually a staff Christmas party. Plaintiff explained her religious faith and asked if the luncheon would have any Christmas undertones like the previous years. Her supervisor did not answer plaintiff's question, so plaintiff informed her she would not be able to attend; that this was simply a matter of her religious faith. It was after this email exchange that everything changed for plaintiff.
Plainitff contended that Ms. Nathaniel’s attitude toward plaintiff immediately shifted, as she became extremely rude, dismissive and unprofessional. Ms. Nathaniel chastised plaintiff for not participating in the holiday events she had planned, making derogatory references to plaintiff’s religion and telling her to “go work the office while all the rest of us are having fun and exchanging gifts without you.”
In addition, that Ms. Nathaniel started to significantly increase plaintiff’s workload. Ms. Nathaniel assigned her to do “office coverage” at King’s Road (a different worksite nearly 30 minutes away from her Monica Manor) more than anyone else. Before this time period, all resident managers shared the load and covered the King’s Road office on a rotational basis.
Plaintiff was being sent out to the King’s Road office five or six times a month, in addition to being told to do other employees’ work assignments even though they did not need any help or assistance. This went on for weeks until, after a particularly nasty staff meeting where Ms. Nathaniel screamed at plaintiff, plaintiff reported the retaliation and harassment to Ms. Nathaniel’s boss, Arlene Black.
After her report to Ms. Black, however, nothing was done to stop Nathaniel and the retaliation only got worse. Plaintiff then reported the harassment to the Commission’s Human Resources Department, who initially rejected her complaint because it came to them through her local union representative. Eventually, Ms. Mayo sent a letter directly to the Director of HR, who only then agreed to conduct an investigation. Plaintiff then had an in-person meeting with HR for nearly two hours where she explained everything that had been happening to her. Plaintiff supplied HR with over 20 pages of her notes detailing all of the harassment from her supervisor and included another 20 pages of supporting documents such as emails and monthly office schedules and sign-in sheets to prove that her workload had also been increased.
An HR investigation followed. Plaintiff contended that of the four witnesses plaintiff identified who could corroborate her claims, none were interviewed. Instead, HR went directly to the harasser, Ms. Nathaniel, and simply asked her if she was harassing plaintiff.
Ms. Nathaniel, who brought Ms. Black with her to the interview, denied any harassment and insisted that plaintiff was still doing office coverage on an equal “rotational basis” like all the other resident managers.
HR then issued a rejection letter to plaintiff, informing her that she had presented “insufficient evidence” to establish claims of harassment and retaliation but that she would still be “protected” under the Commission’s anti-retaliation policy.
Immediately following the investigation, the retaliation from Ms. Nathaniel significantly increased. Soon after, Ms. Badrakhan (department director and personal friend of Ms. Nathaniel) issued a “formal assignment” to plaintiff, which required her to cover the King’s Road office three days per week for the next 3-4 months. Plaintiff was crushed when she realized that she would now be forced forced to work with her harasser on an almost daily basis. Plaintiff contended that Nathaniel was extremely harsh with her, constantly yelling, nitpicking, and threatening her job.
Plaintiff claimed that the retaliation went on for weeks and was only getting worse; that with the constant threats and toxic environment, plaintiff’s health was beginning to decline rapidly.
Plaintiff started using her sick days in order to avoid her harasser. Even then, the stress and anxiety from the fear of losing her job and being evicted from her home began to overwhelm plaintiff. In addition to losing sleep, plaintiff started having severe panic attacks, nightmares and was beginning to lose her hair.
Eventually, plaintiff’s condition worsened to the point that her physician put her on a medical leave of absence for several weeks. When she finally recuperated and returned, however, Nathaniel and Badrakhan served her with a 120-page writeup called “Notice of Commission Expectations.”
In the “Notice,” plaintiff was chastised for dozens of “performance deficiencies” ranging from her “failure to communicate timely and effectively” to the fact that her home office was too messy. The Notice included 37 attachments as “proof,” including photos taken of plaintiff’s apartment without her knowledge or permission. Most importantly, the Notice cited plaintiff for an “unacceptable” use of sick days (listing 13 separate days she had called in sick before her medical leave started) and thereby punished plaintiff by limiting her to only one unscheduled sick day per month going forward.
Plaintiff was completely distraught and unable to function, leading her doctor to put her back on medical leave for several more weeks, which the Commission approved. When plaintiff returned again in October 2011, Nathaniel informed her that the “assignment” at King’s Road had ended, but that she still needed plaintiff to report to King’s Road on certain days for other matters.
On October 31, Nathaniel sent plaintiff an email ordering her to report to King’s Road that day. Plaintiff claimed, however, that she did not receive the email until several hours later, at which point Nathaniel called and screamed at her for “insubordination.” Plaintiff immediately offered to come to King’s Road, but was instructed to stay put by Nathaniel. Nathaniel then reported to her boss, Ms. Badrakhan, that plaintiff was “refusing” to follow her orders and thereby recommended her termination.
Plaintiff claimed that Badrakhan recommended plaintiff’s termination to Executive Director Sean Rogan, who immediately approved. After plaintiff received a notice that she would be officially terminated in two weeks, she frantically wrote a lengthy email complaint to Sean Rogan, explaining the harassment and retaliation due to her religion and how Black, Badrahan and HR were not only allowing it to happen, but also assisting Nathaniel with her campaign of retaliation.
Plaintiff stated that she had been to the hospital twice due to her worsening medical condition, that Nathaniel and Badrakhan had falsely accused her of performance deficiencies and had now succeeded in getting her fired for false reasons. Plaintiff pleaded for Mr. Rogan to step-in and put a stop to this, but she did not receive a response.
Plaintiff was subsequently terminated on November 21, 2011. She was given 10 days to gather all of her belongings and vacate her home.
During the final hours of her move-out, plaintiff claimed that Nathaniel called another employee and instructed him to follow plaintiff around with Nathaniel on speakerphone while she screamed threats at plaintiff.
This was absolutely humiliating for plaintiff. After this incident, plaintiff’s health continued to decline rapidly. She was subsequently diagnosed with major depressive disorder as well as panic disorder with agoraphobia and put on anti-depression medication, which she is still taking to this day. However, due to her termination, plaintiff also lost her health insurance and could no longer afford to continue any treatment with her therapist.
Plaintiff contended that defendant fired her in retaliation for making complaints of religious discrimination to defendant's supervisors; that defendant failed to prevent retaliation against her, that she was discriminated against on the basis of her disability, that defendant failed to prevent disability discrimination and that defendant violated her California Family Rights Act.
- Defendant's Contentions:
Defendant contended that it fired plaintiff for insubordination; that plaintiff's complaints or disability did not play a role in its decision to terminate her.
Demands and Offers
- Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $20,000 at MSC.