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A jury awarded $10 million in punitive damages Wednesday to a longtime employee of a tool distribution company, who maintained that he was discriminated against and eventually fired because of disabilities, bringing his total award when combined with compensatory damages to $15 million.

The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for about an hour before deciding that 55-year-old Cesar Astorga of Azusa was entitled to punitive damages from Industry-based Snap-On Logistics Co. The same jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiff on Tuesday.

The punitive damages phase was triggered by the jury’s decision that the company acted with fraud, oppression or malice.

“This was one of the most egregious cases of corporate abuse of an employee that I’ve ever seen,” said one of Astorga’s lawyers, Ebby Bakhtiar, adding that the company falsely accused his client of taking bribes from contractors.

Snap-On Logistics is a subsidiary of Snap-On Inc.

“I’m so happy for Cesar,” said Astorga’s other attorney, Keith Griffin. “The jury got it right.”

Astorga said he also was pleased with the verdicts and praised his attorneys for their work. Asked if he would ever recommend that anyone accept a job at Snap-On, Astorga said, “No.”

Lawyers for Snap-On declined to comment on the verdicts.

Astorga worked for 15 years at Snap-On, moving up the ladder from an equipment polisher and maintenance worker to a supervisor before his April 2011 firing. Astorga injured his right knee in 2001 and hurt his left knee five years later, according to court papers filed by Bakhtiar.

Astorga, according to his sworn declaration, underwent multiple knee surgeries. After telling a supervisor in October 2010 that he was going to be placed on another medical leave for surgery, the boss told him that had too many absences already, according to Astorga.

When he was released to return to work in January 2011, the supervisor complained that he was having too many work condition restrictions, according to Astorga.

When he returned to work, he said he was placed under the supervision of Alvaro Moreno, the employee hired to replace him as the maintenance supervisor during the plaintiff’s medical leave.

“Since I had more knowledge about the machinery at the facility, Moreno would always defer to my opinion,” according to Astorga, who said he was accused during a company meeting of having taken bribes from contractors.

“I was then told not to speak with anyone and sent to my desk to gather my belongings,” Astorga said. “During the meeting, I repeatedly denied having done anything wrong.”

–City News Service

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