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Judge grants joint dismissal of $186M AutoZone case

A federal judge has granted the plaintiff and AutoZone Stores Inc.'s joint motion for dismissal of all claims in a case in which a jury awarded $186 million to a local woman who alleged the company engaged in pregnancy discrimination.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Gallo’s order issued Friday signals the end of a case that resulted in former AutoZone (NYSE: AZO) manager and San Ysidro resident Rosario Juarez being awarded what is believed to be the largest employment law verdict for an individual in the country’s history.

The dismissal, which came while the auto parts retailer’s motion for retrial was pending, likely means the two sides reached a settlement for a smaller sum than the jury verdict, though attorneys for both parties did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Attorney Lawrence Bohm, one of Suarez’s representatives from Bohm Law Group in Sacramento, said previously that he was working to reach a settlement that could include his client accepting reduced damages.

The judge had also urged the parties to settle in the months after the verdict.

AutoZone was represented by attorneys from Littler Mendelson PC, which has a San Diego office.

In November, a San Diego jury determined that Juarez’s pregnancy and gender were substantial factors in AutoZone’s harassment, demotion and later retaliatory termination of her.

The panel also found that the company’s conduct was committed with malice, oppression or fraud.

The jury awarded Suarez $185 million in punitive damages, plus $872,719 in compensatory damages.

In a separate order issued Friday, Gallo concluded that Bohm and one of his associate attorneys engaged in attorney misconduct during the trial, including violating the State Bar of California’s rules of professional conduct.

Gallo criticized Bohm and his associate, Kate Langmore, for Langmore making prohibited contact with a juror who was excused just before the punitive damages phase of the trial.

Bohm allegedly directed Langmore to ask the juror for her contact information, and she complied.

Gallo said he was referring Bohm and Langmore to the State Bar of California and the Standing Committee on Discipline for the Southern District of California.

“It is incumbent upon all actors in the judicial process, especially judges, to be always vigilant against behavior that calls into question the validity and integrity of judicial results,” Gallo wrote. “To that end, even minor infractions must be addressed swiftly and fairly.”

He also concluded that their misconduct “did not have an adverse influence on the outcome of the trial.”

Gallo did not take any action based on allegations that a clerk for Bohm Law Group told jurors after the trial not to talk to the defense and invited them to a cocktail party that the plaintiff’s counsel was hosting at the Westin Hotel.

“The court’s view of the evidence based on the declarations submitted and testimony presented indicates that what occurred outside of the courtroom was an unprofessional spectacle fueled by both parties, but not unethical or in violation of any professional rule,” Gallo wrote.

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