A Santa Ana woman who said her hopes to have a long career in human resources at Amazon.com Inc. were stymied when she was targeted for disparate treatment after she became pregnant with her first child in 2017 was awarded more than $300,000 Thursday.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury that heard trial of her lawsuit deliberated for about 1 1/2 days before finding in favor of 34-year-old Thu Nguyet Thi “Nicki” Tran on her claims for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to engage in the interactive process and a violation of the California Family Rights Act. Her total award was about $309,500.
Tran testified that her supervisor, Adam Kozinn, and the site leader of the Amazon Fresh facility in Vernon, Kuldip Sandhu, were cool to her when she requested accommodations to cope with nausea from morning sickness and stopped being receptive when she sought further coaching to do a better job.
Tran, who is pregnant with her third child, said she was reluctant to complain to someone with higher authority than Kozinn and Sandhu.
“I didn’t want to be just a complainer,” Tran said. “I had a job and I wanted to keep a job.”
Amazon attorneys argued in their court papers that three months after taking her position at the Vernon facility, Tran “systematically chose not to come in to her worksite for at least 20 days over a six-month period without taking any time off, without getting permission and usually without even telling her boss or her co-workers that she would not be present.”
When Tran was told an investigation would be conducted into her conduct, she at first asked for a severance, then rejected it, chose not to return to work and then sued in March 2018, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
However Tran, who alleged she was fired in September 2017, just days before she was scheduled to take maternity leave, said she found it hard to drive from Orange County to Vernon every day because of nausea so bad she often felt like vomiting in the car. She also she had back pain from sitting in the car and that it worsened during her second trimester.
Tran testified Kozinn was initially receptive to her working from home, where she said she could do the same work from her laptop that she normally did at the office, other than in-person meetings with employees. She also said Amazon had communications systems that made it easy for her to be in contact with employees and help them while working remotely.
But when Sandhu came back from a six-month leave, she seemed unhappy about Tran’s pregnancy, scoffed at her complaints of nausea, suggested the plaintiff take yoga classes and told her, “Be positive and you’ll be fine,” Tran said.
Sandhu also became discontented with the frequency of Tran’s medical appointments, the plaintiff said. Kozinn’s attitude also changed and he seemed unwilling to coach the plaintiff so she could have a better working relationship with Sandhu, Tran said.
While walking together around the fast-paced facility one day, Kozinn turned and asked the pregnant Tran, “Do I need to slow down for you?,” Tran testified.
Kozinn also told her she was not ready for any promotions and questioned whether she was legally entitled to the amount of maternity leave she was requesting, Tran said.
A Vietnamese emigre, Tran said her family waited more than a dozen years before they could come to the U.S. while being sponsored by a relative who preceded them years earlier after the end of the Vietnam War. She said she was happy about her new homeland because of the limited job opportunities in her native country, especially for women.
Tran, fluent only in Vietnamese when she came to the U.S., said she “forced herself” to learn English, attended community college and eventually graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in human resources, hoping to one day be a career recruiter. She said she was working as a human resources assistant at Western Dental when she was recruited to work at an Amazon facility in the Inland Empire in 2014.