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Store to Pay $440,000 : Woman Regains Award in Discrimination Case

A woman who sued Montgomery Ward for racial discrimination after she quit her job for health reasons has had her original award of $440,000 restored by the state Court of Appeal.

Marcelle Philpott-Bryant, attorney for Elizabeth Jones, said Monday that it is believed to be the largest amount ever awarded under California’s civil rights law.

Jones, a single mother of four teen-age boys, was awarded $40,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages by a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court in early 1984. However, the trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $100,000.

Jones told the Superior Court that she had been a part-time bookkeeper at Montgomery Ward’s Eagle Rock store, and she alleged that a new controller there harassed her in a way that showed racial discrimination.

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Because of the harassment, Jones said, she developed ulcers and migraine headaches that required hospitalization. To save her health, Jones said, she resigned from her job.

The court was told that when a representative of the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment went to the store to discuss the case, officials of the firm refused to cooperate with the investigation and ordered the state investigator to leave the store.

Montgomery Ward appealed and Jones cross-appealed on the reduction of punitive damages.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court judgment on Friday but stated that because this “case is one involving a strong punitive verdict,” the court was restoring the original amount of $400,000 punitive damages.

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