In the case of Maria Lopez et al. vs. Wheel Group Holdings dba The Wheel Group, BC 545112, the trial Judge Randolph Hammock awarded $500,000 in punitive damages against the company for firing their employee, represented by Attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law, because she had Cancer. The Judge stated on the record that he found the company’s conduct “despicable” and, in his written statement of decision, found that this was an “extraordinary case” where the defendant’s actions, involved, “extreme reprehensibility or unusually small hard to detect or hard to measure compensatory damages.” (Click here for the November 16, 2018 Statement of Decision).
This case presented the unique challenge in that Maria Lopez died of Cancer during her first trial, so the trial judge declared a mistrial. Attorneys Carmen Sabater and Jim DeSimone agreed to try the case a second time for her children because the evidence showed that this company acted in conscious disregard of Ms. Lopez’ health when they fired their still productive employee knowing she had Cancer. Under California Law, when Ms. Lopez sadly died during her first trial, she lost the ability to obtain compensation for emotional and mental harm. However, the Attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law took this to trial because they did not want this company to get away with this blatant discrimination and punitive damages were warranted.
The evidence presented at trial showed that when Ms. Lopez got sick with Cancer, she worked through her chemotherapy. She was the top Los Angeles sales person for The Wheel Group and enjoyed the rapport and relationships she established with customers. But her manager wrote her off. He gave her best accounts to another sales person and stole her sales for himself. Then he fired her because her sales numbers were purportedly down.
However, even with this harassment and her illness, she was still the top salesperson. The company didn’t even bother to run the numbers. Her sister, who worked for the company as a receptionist, got them from the accounting department and compellingly testified that everyone, including management, knew Maria had Cancer and was the top salesperson. Ms. Lopez’ supervisors denied even knowing she had Cancer which the Judge found, on the record, “[i]t would have been funny if it were not so pathetic that [the company’s corporate officers] … denied knowing that she had Cancer. That is the most laughable, unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen.” (Trial transcript click here) Based on the evidence, Judge Hammock found these corporate officers acted with “malice, oppression and/or fraud” when they wrongfully terminated Ms. Lopez in violation of public policy.
V. James DeSimone, lead trial counsel, stated “the verdict vindicates Maria Lopez and honors the memory of their mom for her children, Carlos, Jennifer and Emily. They know their Mom fought for them even in the face of discrimination.” Carmen Sabater, co-trial counsel stated, “this verdict sends a message to companies, treat your disabled employees fairly and with respect and dignity.” You can reach the civil rights employment law attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law at (310) 693-5561.
This press release was originally published here.