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$155 mln for VP who says co threw him under bus in female lawyers' pay-bias case

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  • Jury awards former top lawyer at Farmers Insurance $150 million in punitive damages
  • Senior VP said he was being punished for preparing testimony in a discrimination case brought by the company's female lawyers
  • Farmers says he was fired for making inappropriate comments to employees

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(Reuters) - A California jury has awarded a former top lawyer at Farmers Insurance Group $150 million in his lawsuit claiming he was fired as he prepared to testify in a pay discrimination case against the company.

The jury in state court in Los Angeles handed down the verdict on Thursday after less than hour of deliberations in the 2017 lawsuit, in which Andrew Rudnicki says he was scapegoated over the alleged pay bias against female employees at Farmers.

The verdict covered punitive damages, which are designed to punish unlawful conduct and deter it in the future. Farmers could move to lower the award, but California law does not cap the punitive damages plaintiffs can receive in discrimination and retaliation cases.

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The jury separately awarded Rudnicki, who was a senior vice president at Farmers, $5.4 million in compensatory damages on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Farmers said in a statement that the company disagrees with the verdict and is considering its options. Farmers is represented by Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Rudnicki claimed in the lawsuit that after 37 years with the company, he was fired in 2016 shortly after Farmers agreed to pay $4 million to settle a class action pay-bias lawsuit by female workers.

Rudnicki said Farmers was fearful of what he would have revealed about its pay practices had he testified in the case, and placed the blame on him for the allegedly unlawful conduct.

Farmers maintained throughout the litigation that Rudnicki was fired for making inappropriate and insensitive comments to coworkers.

The jury found that Farmers unlawfully retaliated against Rudnicki and wrongfully terminated him in violation of California law, and had acted with malice or oppression.

The case is Rudnicki v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County, No. BC630158.

For Rudnicki: Carney Shegerian of Shegerian & Associates

For Farmers: Lynne Hermle and Joseph Liburt of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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