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Contreras v. FHC [$5,915,645.00]

Case: Contreras v. Family Health Centers of San Diego  (37-2014-00026469-CU-WT-CTL) [disability discrimination]

Court: Superior Court of San Diego County

Judge: Hon. Joan M. Lewis; Hon. Jeffrey B. Barton

Date: March 1, 2019

Facts & Allegations:    Physical Disability Discrimination.  Plaintiff, Rosario Contreras worked as a medical records clerk for Family Health Centers of San Diego (“FHC”) for approximately more than 5 years when she incurred a repetitive use injury to her right arm.  After having surgery and being placed on temporary assignments while her arm healed, Ms. Contreras was ultimately placed in FHC’s call center, where she sat at a computer work station answering patients questions and directing them to appropriate departments via telephone.  Notably, FHC placed Ms. Contreras at a right-handed work station, with a right-handed mouse, despite that her prior work injury was to her right hand and arm.  Within weeks of being sent to FHC’s call center, Ms. Contreras re-injured her right arm and requested a left-handed mouse and work station.  FHC never provided these requested accommodations, never presented Ms. Contreras with any alternative job openings to look at, and never informed Ms. Contreras that if she did not find an accommodation or alternate job opening that she could do she would be terminated.  Instead, FHC sent Ms. Contreras home and told her to just come back with her Doctor’s notes each month – which she did.  Then, approximately four months later, FHC terminated Ms. Contreras and created a separation form falsely stating that Ms. Contreras had voluntarily quit her employment.

Jury Verdict:    The case originally went to trial and was barely defensed in 2014, but Hogue & Belong filed a successful Motion for New Trial.  FHC appealed the trial court’s order granting a new trial.  Hogue & Belong opposed that appeal and the Court of Appeal (Fourth District) affirmed the trial court’s order.  After the appeal, the case went to trial for the second time in October, 2018.  After a two week jury trial, the jury found FHC liable on all causes of action and awarded Plaintiff a total of $5,915,645.00 as follows:

compensatory damages: $915,645.00

punitive damages: $5,000,000.00

Post Trial Motions and Amended Judgment:    After judgment on the jury verdict was entered, FHC filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict and a Motion for New Trial.  Additionally, Hogue & Belong filed a motion for statutory attorneys fees.  The Court granted the attorneys’ fees motion, denied both of FHC’s motions, but reduced the punitive damages award, resulting in an amended judgment in favor of Plaintiff in the total amount of $3,862,482.28 as follows:

compensatory damages: $915,645.00

punitive damages: $1,831,290.00

attorneys’ fees and costs: $1,115,547.28