More than $375,000 in attorneys’ fees was granted to an ex-human resources director for a Malibu-based rehabilitation center. She had already been awarded $1.8 million by the jury after allegations of being fired for reporting workplace violations.
Judge William Fahey, Los Angeles Superior Court judge, stated that Cynthia Begazo of Playa del Rey was entitled to $375,570 from Passages Malibu. His legal counsel sought close to $680,000, but Passages Malibu insisted this amount was excessive considering the case. Begazo filed the wrongful termination lawsuit in September of 2015. Allegations included workplace retaliation, age discrimination and disability discrimination. Arguments regarding attorneys’ fees were heard on May 8th and Fahey took the motion under submission prior to ruling on May 17th.
Other defendants named in the case in addition to Passages Malibu, included: Grasshopper House LLC, Passages Silverstrand in Port Hueneme, Passages Malibu co-founders (Chris Prentiss and his son, Pax Prentiss), and Begazo’s direct supervisor, Marina Mahoney.
According to the suit, Begazo, aged 55, advised her supervisors on the job that she had been diagnosed with leukemia upon her hiring in March 2015. That same month, she states she informed Pax Prentiss that there were some maintenance workers, servers and housekeepers who were not receiving appropriate overtime pay, meal and rest breaks in accordance with both state and federal law. According to Begazo, Prentiss replied by stating, “Don’t worry about it, you have bigger things to worry about.”
In direct contradiction to Begazo’s claims, Pax Prentiss testified that he fired Begazo because her performance was sub-par. He also stated that she did not follow orders on the job to meet with managers at other locations or put in the extra time necessary to get the department running or assist required recruiting efforts.
According to the suit, a patient at the Passages facility in Ventura was found dead in his room with a bag and trashcan over his head as well as scratches to his face. When this occurred in April 2015, Mahoney spoke to detectives about the patient’s death, but when Begazo insisted that the incident should be reported to appropriate civil authorities as well as the center’s insurance carrier, Mahoney advised her not to report any of it before leaving the room. The suit continues, stating that Begazo took a week off in early May 2015 due to an infection related to her previously discussed leukemia. She returned to work two months later, but was advised that same day that she was terminated.
If you have questions about what constitutes wrongful termination or if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with an experienced California employment law attorney at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.