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February 2016

Los Angeles Team Wins Unanimous Defense Verdict in Employment Case Involving Pregnancy Discrimination and Retaliation

Gordon & Rees Los Angeles employment team’s senior partner Stephen Ronk, partner Jennifer Ghozland, senior counsel Erika Shao, and paralegal Marita Navarro obtained a unanimous defense verdict Feb. 10 in a single-plaintiff employment case after four weeks of jury trial and four full days of deliberation.

The plaintiff, a former five-year employee of a restaurant group, alleged that she was fired as a result of gender and pregnancy discrimination, disability discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination. The plaintiff discovered she was pregnant less than two weeks before her termination and claimed that the timing of her termination was no coincidence and was a direct result of her pregnancy announcement less than two weeks prior.

The defense contended that the plaintiff was terminated for poor performance and violation of company policy following five attempts to relocate her within the company. At trial the defense contended that each time she was relocated, she was given less managerial responsibility to the point where she was a “brand representative” with no direct reports. As her last chance, the plaintiff was sent to work for a licensee of the restaurant group at Los Angeles International Airport. The licensee thereafter terminated its contract with the restaurant group which allowed the plaintiff as a brand representative to work at the airport location. That was the final straw for the restaurant group, who terminated the plaintiff’s employment after the contract to place the plaintiff at LAX was terminated by the licensee and after being informed that the plaintiff was found sleeping in the airport terminal blocking a wheelchair barricade, came to work smelling like alcohol, was not on location during her scheduled shift and on multiple occasions left work early.

The plaintiff attempted to use against the restaurant group a glowing letter of recommendation they had prepared almost a year after her termination, arguing that it directly contradicted the criticisms of her performance. The letter of recommendation became a moot point, ultimately outweighed by the numerous negative reports throughout her employment, leading the jury to its unanimous verdict in favor of the defense.

Stephen E. Ronk
Erika L. Shao