Disabled Worker Wins Discrimination Case Against Citizens of Humanity

In a court case that took more than three weeks to argue, a 61-year-old employee who felt he was wrongfully dismissed after a shoulder injury limited his ability to work won a major verdict against his employer, Citizens of Humanity.

Noe Abarca, who for six years worked as a minimum-wage quality-control inspector at the premium-blue-jeans label, was awarded $650,000 in compensatory and punitive damages by a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury.

“The jury found malice, fraud and oppression, and this will send a message that you can’t treat workers the way they did,” said Dan Kramer, the lead attorney representing Abarca.

Abarca was hired by Citizens of Humanity in 2006 and about three years later he began feeling pain in his chest and shoulders, which affected his ability to lift items, according to court papers.

Eventually Abarca saw a doctor who issued a restriction that the worker lift no more than 20 pounds. At that time, Citizens of Humanity told Abarca to only inspect merchandise and brought in another employee to do Abarca’s loading and distribution duties, court papers said.

The day Abarca’s lifting restrictions ended, he said, he was still feeling pain and was fired, according to the lawsuit.

In the case alleging retaliation, disability discrimination and failure to provide reasonable accommodation, the court ruled that Citizens of Humanity’s human-resources director fraudulently stated on the worker’s compensation form that the company first learned of Abarca’s injury on the day of his termination.

“His body started wearing down and the doctor said you need to be accommodated, and they wouldn’t do it,” Kramer said.

Calls to Citizens of Humanity’s lead attorney, Peter Ross, were not returned by press time.