Starbucks Corp. was ordered to pay $42,000 Friday to a diabetic former manager trainee who said he was fired from a store in Redondo Beach because he requested accommodations for his disease in order to perform his job.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for about 1 1/2 days before finding that 35-year-old Jose Zepeda of South Gate was subjected to disability discrimination.
Outside the courtroom, Zepeda said the principle of his stand outweighed any concern he had about the amount of money the jury awarded.
“It was worth it, and I stuck to my guns,” Zepeda said. “It’s not easy, but I think anyone should stand up to discrimination, especially in the workplace.”
Zepeda told the jury last week that his supervisors increased his workload after he told them he was diabetic and needed accommodations. When he complained, Zepeda said he was fired.
Zepeda testified that he was out of work for months after his September 2015 firing and was repeatedly turned down by prospective employers after he explained why he lost his job at Starbucks. He said he was eventually hired as a buyer for Weckerle Sales Corp., a Carson cosmetics firm.
Starbucks corporate counsel Richard Lopez said Zepeda locked the doors and allowed a female customer to remain in the store after closing time while he counted company proceeds in the back. Only vendors and Starbucks employees on the clock are permitted in stores after hours as a way to prevent robberies, Lopez said.
Pam Michno was Zepeda’s district manager at the time. She testified he was fired for violating a strict policy against such conduct so as to prevent holdups. Michno has since been promoted to a regional manager.
But Zepeda denied any wrongdoing involving the customer, testifying that she was flirting with another Starbucks employee and was trying to convince that barista to go out with her. Zepeda said the woman was only in the store for about five to seven minutes after closing time and that he stayed by the front door. He said he could not tally the day’s income while the woman was in the store because the safe could not be opened until a certain period of time passed after closing time.
Zepeda said it was common at other Starbucks stores where he worked for customers, many of them students with books and laptops, to stay a short time past closing to gather their belongings.
Zepeda said he was hired by Starbucks in September 2013 and transferred from Las Vegas in anticipation of becoming the permanent Redondo Beach store manager.
Zepeda said he told Michno during an interview in October 2014 that he had diabetes and needed occasional rest breaks and a chance to stop and eat something in order to deal with his symptoms.
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