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Martinez v. Rite Aid Corporation: Why Court Is No Place For Revenge

On behalf of California Civil Rights Law Group posted in Wrongful Termination on Friday, May 3, 2013.

When an employer does the wrong thing by you, it’s only natural to feel resentment toward the employer. This is especially true in the case of being bullied, discriminated against or wrongfully terminated.

The solution to these issues is to file a complaint with a court, ordinarily with the help of a civil rights attorney. The remedy sought and what you are or are not awarded by the court may not always offer the justice that you feel may be ‘fair’ or ‘equitable’ in comparison to how you were made to feel by that employer.

If your employer is found to be in the wrong and you are awarded compensation or the employer is penalized, it is often not enough in the eyes of the victim. In few circumstances there may be another breach of your civil rights that you can return to the courts for further resolution and/or compensation.

In the process of justice, being served the feeling of having your oppressor proven wrong and penalized may feel good. But how do you know where to draw the line?

THE CASE OF MARIA MARTINEZ V RITE AID CORPORATION ET AL.

The unpublished [1] case of Maria Martinez v Rite Aid Corporation et al. (2013) [2] demonstrates what can happen if you initiate litigation that is considered “intentional infliction of emotional distress against [the employer]” [3] after having the court decide in your favor.

The appeal arose from an employment discrimination case brought by the plaintiff (Martinez) for being unfairly dismissed, harassed, sexually harassed, having her privacy invaded and being subjected to retaliation based on her age, disability, medical leave of absence and her complaint lodged regarding the sexual harassment. [4]

After a lengthy trial, the jury found in favor of Martinez and awarded her $3.4 million in compensatory damages and an additional $4.8 million in punitive damages. [5]

The employer appealed claiming that the court made numerous legal errors, including making a decision on insufficient evidence.

Martinez decided to cross-appeal, which was denied at the trial court. [6] At this late stage of the proceedings, she wanted to add to her initial compensation claims. She claimed that a violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act [7] (FEHA) had also occurred.

THE COURT’S OPINION

Martinez’s initial complaint was deemed to have sufficient evidence to warrant compensatory costs for wrongful termination [8]; however, the decision for the punitive costs was deemed too ambiguous to decide on an amount and warranted a re-trial.

The judges were unanimously upset with the plaintiff for lying about the defendants waiving their claim of the damages awarded to Martinez being excessive. Martinez submitted that the defendants had not asked for the costs to be explained. [9] Most importantly, they were not approving of the fact that Martinez was aware of this claim needing to be lodged with the court far in advance to this amending cross-appeal. [10]

MARTINEZ’S ARGUMENT BACKFIRES

Martinez’s argument of why her cross-appeal should have proceeded ultimately backfired on her. Martinez asserted that the purpose of denying an amendment was to avoid prejudice against the opposing party. [11] She proceeded to state that because her proposed claims were based on already established facts, no prejudice could result.

The judges observed no such absence of prejudice toward the employer. In fact, it found just the opposite.

It was also found that Martinez had not exhausted the administrative appeals process prior to lodging the claim. The case of Wills v. Superior Court (2011) [12] was cited as support. This appeared to further aggravate the court as the implications would have cost the court and the employer time and money in further unnecessary proceedings. [13] Thus, the court found her to be prejudiced toward the employer.

OUTCOME

The Judges all agreed that the lower court’s decision should be overturned. The matter was remanded for a new trial only for the issue of compensatory damages claimed by Martinez, and not for any punitive claims. [14]

In addition to not receiving any of the benefits provided by the judgement made in the trial court, Martinez is now found to be in violation of public policy against her employer by “intentional[ly] inflicting emotional distress against Rite Aid and Chau.” [15] Furthermore, no party is able to make claim for legal costs associated with an appeal. [16]

Ultimately, this will have a detrimental impact on the future decision for Martinez as she will be seen in a negative light. Moreover, the costs to be awarded to her will be reduced by the compensatory damages she will be expected to pay to the employer for her emotional violation against them.

In conclusion, it is critically important to follow procedures and most importantly, to maintain your integrity. In other words, don’t stoop to the same level as your oppressor. Not only does this fuel any negativity directed toward you by the opposing party, but it also aggravates the courts and may result in serious consequences.

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2017-05-19T21:04:54+00:00