A 58-year-old Ontario woman already awarded $3 million in her age discrimination case was granted another $28 million in punitive damages Tuesday against two subsidiaries of Danaher Corp., a verdict her lawyer said may be the largest of its kind in Los Angeles legal history.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for about an hour before finding by a 9-3 vote that Sybron Dental Specialties Inc. and KaVo Kerr Group should pay $16 million and $12 million in punitive damages, respectively, to Codie Rael.
“I never expected this,” a jubilant Rael said outside the courtroom as she fought back tears.
Asked whether she would ever encourage anyone to work for Danaher and its subsidiaries, she replied, “I would tell them I hope they (the companies) learned something from this so they can become the great place to work they once were again.”
Rael’s lawyer, Carney Shegerian, said the total award may be the largest of this type in local history. In 2014, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $26.1 million in a wrongful termination and age discrimination verdict against Staples Inc. Plaintiff Bob Nickel also was a Shegerian client.
The same Rael jury awarded her $3 million in compensatory damages on Thursday. The punitive damages phase of the case was triggered when the jury found that Sybron Dental Specialities Inc. and KaVo Kerr Group acted with malice, oppression or fraud against Rael.
Representatives for Seyfarth Shaw, the law firm representing the defendants, expressed disappointment in the verdict.
“We do not believe that it (the jury’s verdict) reflects the evidence, nor the respectful work environment and company values we live by. We are carefully reviewing our options for appeal,” their statement said.
In his final argument Tuesday, Shegerian recommended that Rael be awarded a collective total of $73 million in punitive damages.
“This wasn’t some accident that a whole department was wiped out and replaced by people younger and cheaper,” Shegerian said. “What you’ve realized in your verdict, they’ve known for years.”
In addition, the companies were “acknowledging zero wrongdoing,” Shegerian said.
However, defense attorney Jon Meer said the first verdict was received by management at the highest levels of the companies and that those responsible for the multimillion-dollar award will “have a stain on their personal records for the rest of their lives.”
The first verdict “hit us hard and has got our attention,” Meer said.
Meer repeatedly interrupted Shegerian for showing the jury slides detailing civil rights laws dating back to 1866, saying such information was not relevant and that his clients should not be blamed for something 150 years ago.
Shegerian said the defense disobeyed three court orders to turn over all the information sought by the plaintiff about the assets of the companies.
After her departure from the companies, Rael got another job that pays more money, according to Meer.
Unlike Tuesday’s quick verdict, the jury spent four days deliberating in the first phase of the case. Rael said she was subjected to such comments as “you are outdated,” “we need younger workers here,” “you are part of the old culture” and “dumb female.”
Rael said many of the disparaging remarks were made by her direct supervisor, Fernando Estavillo, and his boss, Mark Valiquette. Estavillo testified he did not discriminate against anyone because of their age.
In addition to age discrimination, the jury found true Rael’s causes of action for age harassment, wrongful termination and retaliation.
Rael worked for the various entities from November 1978 until she said she was forced to quit in October 2014. She was a materials buyer and planner during her final two years of employment there.
She testified she worked in various plant locations, including Glendora, San Dimas and Orange.
Washington-based Danaher, known for its Craftsman line of tools, has been a growing player in medical technology. Rael testified that Estavillo became her supervisor in March 2014.
She said he put extreme pressure on her to perform exactly as he demanded or else she would be fired.
After Rael quit because of the stress of her job, she was replaced by a man in his 20s, according to her court papers.
Danaher acquired Sybron, where Rael previously worked, for $2 billion in 2006.
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