Employees who are wrongfully terminated for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons have important rights. As a recent groundbreaking verdict shows, they can hold employers accountable in a big way.
The verdict involves a retaliation claim against Farmers Insurance. The company’s former senior Vice President of the legal division, Andrew Rudnicki, had been with the company for nearly four decades when he was fired in 2016. He subsequently sued Farmers for wrongful termination.
Unpacking The Claim
The official reason for the firing was misconduct. However, Rudnicki says he was actually fired for retaliatory reasons.
At the time, Farmers was embroiled in a class action lawsuit involving discrimination claims by female in-house attorneys at the company. Rudnicki had provided deposition testimony against Farmers in that case and had planned to testify at trial. He was fired, he says, as a result. He also alleges that his termination was discriminatory on grounds of his disability, age, and gender.
The Record-Breaking Verdict
In December, a Los Angeles County jury awarded him a landmark $155 million – the largest verdict in Los Angeles County and the third largest among these types of claims in the state, according to his legal team. Of that award, $5 million accounts for compensatory damages – that is, compensation for the economic harm Rudnicki suffered as a result of his firing. The bulk of the award – $150 million – was for punitive damages, intended to punish Farmers for wrongful termination and to deter other companies from engaging in the same kind of retaliatory firings.
The Message It Sends To Employers
The massive verdict was possible under state law, including California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which doesn’t impose caps on damages. However, the punitive damage award could still get reduced in post-trial proceedings or on appeal.
In any event, the award sends a strong message to employers that wrongful termination may come at a steep price. What’s more, it encourages employees to speak up and take legal action when they experience illegal retaliation.