Firms May Readdress Bias After Huge Award : Litigation: The potential of staggering damages may force companies to change the way they promote women and minorities, experts say.
Legal scholars and attorneys said Thursday that the record amount awarded to a Los Angeles woman who sued Texaco in a sex-discrimination case could prompt large companies to take notice of biases in their promotional practices.
On Wednesday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded more than $6 million to Janella Sue Martin, an amount labor attorneys said was the greatest ever granted to an individual in a sex-discrimination case.
The award, which could be overturned or reduced, is a “very strong incentive to avoid discrimination in promotions and to take steps to eliminate vestiges of a glass ceiling,” said Christine Littleton, a UCLA law professor. She was referring to institutional barriers that may keep women and minorities from moving up the corporate ladder.
Littleton, who specializes in employee job discrimination and feminist legal theory, echoed many other scholars and lawyers in calling the compensatory-damage award “amazing.”
The multimillion-dollar award stems from Martin’s 1986 lawsuit, in which the credit supervisor accused Texaco of passing her over twice--in favor of men she called less qualified--when management positions opened.
Martin’s lawyer, Dan Stormer, included testimony from a Harvard psychologist, who said Martin suffered from dysthymia, a form of depression with side effects that include mood and weight swings and forgetfulness. The psychologist testified that Martin lost about 50% of her capacity to function as a result of Texaco’s discriminatory promotional practices.
The jury awarded Martin nearly $6.3 million. Nearly $300,000 covered economic damages--the amount of money Martin would have earned if she had been promoted. The biggest chunk of the award was for non-economic damages, intangibles such as pain, suffering and loss of functioning capacity.
The jury’s reasons for such a steep award cannot be known until the case ends and they are able to discuss it. Martin had asked for no specific amount when she filed her suit against Texaco.
Lawyers for Texaco and Martin declined to comment Thursday on the ongoing trial.
Frank Cronin, a Los Angeles lawyer who regularly defends large companies in cases similar to Martin’s, said the damage amount shows large corporations how much they stand to lose in a discrimination suit.
Martin’s actual damages amount “shows them how bad a jury can be” in terms of the amount they may award someone accusing a company of discriminatory promotional practices.
Cronin said the median amount awarded to plaintiffs is $300,000 to $400,000.
Martin’s award could increase as early as today, when the same jury is scheduled to hear arguments on punitive damages against Texaco Inc., based in White Plains, N.Y. The final award is subject to approval by the trial judge, Ronald E. Cappai, who could reduce it.
Meanwhile, the Martin case shows that “the message has gone out there is a way to fight back” against discrimination at work, said Glenn Rothner, a Los Angeles attorney who defends labor unions and individual employees.