Woman’s Attorneys’ Fees Award Dwarfs Jury Verdict Amount

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
April 11, 2022Updated: April 11, 2022

LOS ANGELES—A Santa Ana woman who won more than $300,000 after a jury found she was targeted for disparate treatment in her human resources job at Amazon has been awarded more than $2 million in attorneys fees.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield on April 8 granted $2.47 million in attorneys’ fees to Thu Nguyet Thi “Nicki” Tran. On Oct. 21, a jury that heard trial of her lawsuit found that the 34-year-old woman was subjected to wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to engage in the interactive process, and a violation of the California Family Rights Act and awarded her about $309,500.

Tran’s lawyers had sought $3.46 million in attorneys’ fees, more than 11 times the amount she recovered in the verdict. Lawyers for Amazon.com Inc. maintained in their court papers that she deserved no more than just under $630,000, noting that the plaintiff lost her key claims for disability and pregnancy discrimination, failure to accommodate, and violation of the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law.

During trial, Tran testified that her supervisor, Adam Kozinn, and Kuldip Sandhu, the site leader of the Amazon Fresh facility in Vernon, were cool to her when she requested accommodations to cope with nausea from morning sickness and that both stopped being receptive when she sought further coaching to do a better job.

Tran, who was pregnant during the trial with her third child, said she was reluctant to complain to someone with higher authority than Kozinn and Sandhu.

“I didn’t want to be just a complainer,” Tran said. “I had a job and I wanted to keep a job.”

Amazon attorneys argued in their court papers that three months after taking her position at the Vernon facility, Tran “systematically chose not to come in to her worksite for at least 20 days over a six-month period without taking any time off, without getting permission and usually without even telling her boss or her co-workers that she would not be present.”

When Tran was told an investigation would be conducted into her conduct, she at first asked for a severance, then rejected it, chose not to return to work, and then sued in March 2018, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.

However, Tran maintained she was fired in September 2017 just days before she was scheduled to take maternity leave. She testified said she found it hard to drive from Orange County to Vernon every day because her nausea was so bad she often felt like vomiting in the car. She also said she had back pain from sitting in the car and that it worsened during her second trimester.

Tran testified that Kozinn was initially receptive to her working from home, where she said she could do the same work from her laptop that she normally did at the office, other than in-person meetings with employees. She also said Amazon had communications systems that made it easy for her to be in contact with employees and help them while working remotely.

But when Sandhu came back from a six-month leave, she seemed unhappy about Tran’s pregnancy, scoffed at her complaints of nausea, suggested the plaintiff take yoga classes, and told her, “Be positive and you’ll be fine,” Tran said.

Sandhu also became discontented with the frequency of Tran’s medical appointments, the plaintiff said. Kozinn’s attitude also changed and he seemed unwilling to coach the plaintiff so she could have a better working relationship with Sandhu, Tran said.

Kozinn also told her she was not ready for promotions and questioned whether she was legally entitled to the amount of maternity leave she was requesting, Tran said.

Tran dropped her individual claims against Sandhu and Kozinn before trial.

A Vietnamese emigre, Tran said her family waited more than a dozen years before they could come to the U.S. while being sponsored by a relative who preceded them years earlier after the end of the Vietnam War. She said she was happy about her new homeland because of the limited job opportunities in her native country, especially for women.