A worker who was fired for her panic attacks won a $21.7 million jury verdict against her employer, including $16.5 million in punitive damages for the employer’s malice.
April Rodriguez was a customer service rep for waste disposal company Valley Vista Services. The 34-year-old mother of four asked for time off and work accommodations to deal with her panic attacks. Instead, she was fired.
She sued her employer and its parent company, Zerep Management Corp., claiming her firing was illegal and discriminated against her mental illness.
Rodriguez testified that her supervisor was skeptical of her condition and suggested that she was faking her panic attacks in order to get more time off. She said losing her job was a severe financial hardship that forced her to send two of her children to live with her brother.
The employer argued that she was fired for not calling in to explain why she did not come to work for more than three days. They said they asked Rodriguez then-husband, Henry, who also worked for the company, to tell her to call in.
Rodriguez claimed she did try to reach someone and that she was having a panic attack just before she was fired and was trying to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.
After the jury awarded her $5.2 million in compensatory damages and $16.5 million to punish the company for acting with malice, Rodriguez said she hopes her case puts a spotlight on panic attacks as a genuine mental illness.
Attorney Carney Shegerian
Her attorneys, Carney Shegerian and Bruce Kokozian, said the verdict sends a message to employers.
“Hopefully this verdict and the justice served in Ms. Rodriguez’s case will put employers on notice that they cannot discriminate against employees who suffer from health or mental health conditions,” Shegerian said.
“I think I’m in a dream right now,” Rodriguez said about the multi-million dollar award.
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Tagged as: ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination, employment discrimination, mental illness