Rite-Aid was ordered to pay $6 million to a Covina woman after a Los Angeles jury found that the pharmacy technician was wrongfully fired in 2007, after more than two decades with the company, after she complained about harassment by a supervisor, court papers obtained Wednesday show.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury reached its verdict March 27 in the wrongful termination lawsuit brought in November 2008 by Maria Martinez of Covina, who also said she was subjected to intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A Rite Aid representative could not immediately be reached for comment.
The case was tried twice before, but ended up on appeal both times.
Martinez, who was a teenager when she began her employment with Rite Aid in 1983, “was an outstanding employee of Rite Aid for over 23 years, and a living example of the American dream,” said her lawyer, Carney Shegerian.
“Starting as an ice cream scooper at age 17 and working her way up to pharmacy clerk and later (a licensed) pharmacy technician, Martinez loved her job and loved providing excellent service to Rite Aid’s customers,” the lawyer said. “Rather than cherishing a dedicated, hardworking employee like Martinez, her supervisors chose to discriminate against her due to an isolated medical incident and her age. This type of behavior is not only morally wrong and unethical, but it is illegal.”
Defense attorneys maintained Martinez had a poor work history under numerous bosses. She argued with supervisors and received a written warning in 2005 for counseling a customer on using her medication, a task limited by law to pharmacists, according to the attorneys, who said she was fired for her poor work performance and for having a bad attitude.
Martinez maintained that in her first 20 years of employment, she was named employee of the month about 20 times and employee of the year twice.
In 2004, an unspecified incident at work caused her to have an emotional reaction and be hospitalized, according to her lawsuit. After returning to work, she says she was transferred to four different stores in a 2 1/2-year period, though she had never been subject to frequent transfers prior to her medical leave of absence.
In 2006, her direct supervisor falsely accused her of giving out a prescription for free and also began making derogatory remarks, calling her “crazy,” bipolar,” “psycho,” “mentally off” and “too old,” all in the presence of co-workers and customers, her suit alleged.
In 2007, Martinez found out that her supervisor had asked four of her co-workers to make false statements about Martinez as part of a plan to get her fired, the suit alleged. Later in 2007, she alleged that he Rite Aid district manager visited her store and told her that “she was a problem and he was going to take care of her.”
Martinez filed an administrative charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the suit stated. After Rite Aid received notification of the filing, Martinez was given a final written warning falsely stating that she continued to make prescription label errors, ignore her supervisor’s directions and disrupted service levels, the suit alleged.
Martinez sent a letter to Rite Aid’s CEO detailing the alleged workplace discrimination and harassment. Four days later, she was placed on suspension, and in August 2007 she was fired after being employed for 23 years, according to her court papers.
The case was originally tried to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury in August 2010. The jury panel found in favor of Martinez and awarded her $3.4 million in compensatory damages and $4.8 million in punitive damages.
Rite Aid appealed and a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and ordered a new trial on compensatory damages. In 2014, a jury again ruled in favor of Martinez, but this time for a smaller sum of $321,000 on the wrongful termination claim, nothing on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against Rite Aid and $20,000 on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against the former supervisor.
Martinez appealed that judgment, asserting that the jury’s special verdicts were inconsistent as a matter of law. In 2016, the Court of Appeal agreed, reversed the judgment and ordered another trial on compensatory damages.