Farmers Insurance Exchange and Farmers Insurance Group must pay a former senior vice president more than $155 million for firing him in retaliation for testimony he was set to give in a class pay bias lawsuit by the companies’ female in-house lawyers, California court records show.
The verdict in favor of Andrew Rudnicki, who ran the companies’ in-house branch legal offices, includes $150 million in punitive damages that a California Superior Court jury awarded Thursday.
It’s believed to be the third-largest such verdict in the state and the largest in Los Angeles County, attorney Carney R. Shegerian told Bloomberg Law Friday. He is with Shegerian & Associates in Los Angeles.
“We disagree with and are disappointed by the verdict, and we are considering options available to us,” the companies said Friday in an email.
Rudnicki had been with Farmers for 37 years at the time of his discharge, beginning as a trial attorney in 1979, according to his August 2017 lawsuit. He rose from supervising attorney to senior vice president, a role to which he was promoted in 2013, the suit said.
But trouble developed as Rudnicki was being prepared to give deposition testimony in Coates v. Farmers Insurance Group Inc., an equal pay case in California federal court, Shegerian said. His client knew about past sex bias in the companies’ legal group and was also aware of certain pay data being withheld that likely triggered the Coatescase, Shegerian said.
The Coatescase ultimately settled, and according to Rudnicki’s lawsuit, the number of women in management positions in the legal department rose substantially during his tenure as a vice president.
The jury found Dec. 14 that Rudnicki’s role as a witness or potential witness in the Coateslitigation was a substantial motivating reason for Farmers’ termination decision, according to the verdict form on liability.
It awarded Rudnicki $3.4 million in past economic damages, $1 million in future economic damages, and $1 million in noneconomic damages.
The jury found the retaliation violated both California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and state public policy prohibiting unlawful terminations, Shegerian said.
The jury rejected Rudnicki’s claims that his age—64—and disability—heart issues—played a role in his firing, according to the verdict form.
The separate punitive damages verdict includes awards of $75 million from each company.
The damages awards should withstand any post-trial challenges by the companies, Shegerian said.
The lost wages award was reasonable given Rudnicki’s experience and senior position and his inability to find comparable employment despite his best efforts, Shegerian said.
The $1 million award for emotional distress damages was relatively low under the circumstances, and the size of the punitive damages awards was in line with the companies’ net worths and was necessary to deter future retaliation by them and other employers in the state, he said.
Rudnicki is “the salt of the Earth” and the people who decided to fire him based on false allegations did so without any consideration of his decades of loyal service, Shegerian said.
The most important thing about the the jury finding in Rudnicki’s favor is the vindication of his rights, Shegerian said.
The case is Rudnicki v. Farmers Ins. Exch., Cal. Super. Ct., No. BC630158, punitive damages verdict 12/16/21.