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$186M AutoZone verdict to be appealed

Indiana workers and companies are watching the outcome of AutoZone's attempt to call for a retrial of a workplace discrimination lawsuit with great interest. The company says the award is unprecedented and disproportionate to the actual damages the plaintiff suffered, and its attorneys allege that attempts by the plaintiff's legal team to tamper with jurors during the trial influenced the verdict unfairly.

The case began after an AutoZone store manager was demoted in 2005 after telling supervisors she was expecting, which prompted her to file a complaint. In 2008, the woman was terminated after allegedly stealing $400 from the store. However, a loss control supervisor testified the woman had been specifically and deliberately targeted by the company. The jury in the wrongful termination trial deliberated for less than two days before returning a verdict in the plaintiff's favor. The U.S. Magistrate who heard AutoZone's request for a retrial called the award from the jury the largest employment-related settlement in US history.

AutoZone contends the plaintiff's attorneys contacted a juror at home and applied improper pressure to the jury by stating that any contact they had with AutoZone's attorneys could negate their verdict. The plaintiff's attorney later admitted that the improper contact was unethical, but argued it did not change the case's outcome or legitimacy.

In a retaliatory termination action, an attorney might begin by seeing whether the company has been accused of such actions before. The attorney might try to liaison with both parties to arrange a settlement, which could include lost wages and performance bonuses, reinstatement of position at full pay and benefits. Should such a settlement attempt fail, the attorney may decide to proceed by presenting the matter in court and letting a jury decide the merits of the case.

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