COURTS: The man said he was illegally fired and denied health benefits.
November 24, 1999
By KATE BERRY
The Orange County Register
A Santa Ana jury on Tuesday awarded $483,800 in damages to an employee of Tustin-based McLean Motor Co., finding that the Cadillac dealership discriminated and denied health coverage to the employee, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.
The jury found that McLean Motor "maliciously, oppressively and fraudulently" discriminated against Kenneth W. Rowe, a 44-year-old customer-service representative, who worked at the dealership for more than 20 years.
The 12-member jury also awarded punitive damages, which will be decided Jan. 10. The trial, before Superior Court Judge Derek W. Hunt, lasted one week.
"I've been vindicated," said Rowe, who lives with his wife and two children in Tustin. His lawyer, John Scarpino, called the verdict "a victory for anyone with a disability or with multiple sclerosis."
Mike McLean, president of McLean Motor, which has been a fixture in Orange County for 60 years, said the company plans to appeal.
"We're surprised and shocked," he said. "We've never had a situation like this and we're pretty proud of the way we treat our employees."
Rowe, who earned about $65,000 a year, filed a discrimination lawsuit in 1997. He said the company suspended his health insurance while he was on medical leave and then fired him, alleging that he had solicited gifts from customers.
"I was the guy that smoothed out problems for the customer," said Rowe. "It wasn't just a job. There was a lot of love there for the customers."
The jury found McLean Motor violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Family Rights Act, which guarantees employees 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave.