In Villacorta v. Cemex Cement, Inc., a case involving a former employee’s suit for wrongful termination from employment, the California Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s decision denying a request by the employer to reduce the amount of the jury’s award of lost wages. The appeals court determined that the award was not excessive and was supported by the evidence. Since the replacement job that the employee found after he was wrongfully terminated was inferior to his old job, the employee’s earnings at the replacement job did not mitigate the amount of his lost wage claim, the appeals court said.
The plaintiff was transferred to the employer’s plant in Victorville, California, in 2003. Prior to the transfer, he worked for 15 years at the employer’s plant in the Philippines. The plaintiff had a mechanical engineering degree and was employed as a maintenance planner at the Victorville plant until being laid off in 2008. At the time of the layoff, he was earning $65,699 per year. He was unemployed for a period of eight months and suffered anxiety and depression as a result of the unemployment.
He subsequently relocated with his family to Corona, California, to be closer to his wife’s workplace. He found new employment as a maintenance supervisor at another company, earning approximately $69,300 per year, but the plant was located in Lebec, California, which required a one-way commute of two or three hours, depending on traffic. Rather than commute five or six hours per day, the plaintiff rented a room one hour away from the plant for $450 per month. The plant was in a remote area and he could not find a closer room for rent. He stayed there during the workweek and returned home on weekends.
The plaintiff filed suit against his employer for intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful termination and discrimination based on national origin. The latter claim was based on the assertion that the plaintiff was laid off due to being Filipino, and that the company’s management preferred Venezuelans.
At trial, the plaintiff argued that he suffered $44,000 in lost wages during the period he was laid off and, because his new job was not comparable to his old job, he was entitled to lost wages through the time of trial, since he had to live away from his family five days a week, or else commute five to six hours per day.
The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $198,000 for “lost salary,” but awarded him nothing on his other claims for recovery of lost bonuses and compensation for mental suffering and emotional distress.
The employer appealed, arguing that the jury’s award was excessive and unsupported by the evidence and should have been reduced by the trial court.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the employer’s jury’s award was not excessive and was supported by substantial evidence. Wages that are earned from an inferior job may not be used to reduce damages for lost earnings in a wrongful termination case. The jury could have reasonably concluded that the plaintiff’s new job was inferior because he was now paying for multiple residences — a home for his family, plus an additional residence for himself during the workweek.
Individuals seeking compensation for wrongful termination and other claims against a current or former employer are urged to consult the professional services of a competent attorney who is experienced in such matters to ensure that their rights are fully protected.