Martinez v. Costco Wholesale Corp.

Decision Date10 February 2023
Docket Number19-CV-1195-WVG
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California


Hon William V. Gallo United States Magistrate Judge


Pending before the Court is Costco Wholesale Corporation's (Defendant,” “Costco,” or “the Company”) Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, for New Trial or Remittitur (Motion for JMOL or “Motion”). (Doc. No. 131.) Defendant filed its Motion on July 7, 2022. (Id.) On August 4, 2022, Marisa Martinez (Plaintiff) filed her Opposition to Defendant's Motion. (Doc. No 132.) On August 19, 2022, Defendant replied to Plaintiff's Opposition. (Doc. No. 133.) On September 30, 2022, the Court convened a hearing on Defendant's Motion.[1] Having fully considered the entirety


On May 13, 2019, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant in San Diego Superior Court, alleging eight causes of action. (Doc. No. 1-2.) The bulk of Plaintiff's claims arose under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), namely (1) disability discrimination; (2) failure to accommodate; (3) failure to engage in the interactive process; (4) retaliation; and (5) failure to prevent discrimination. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleged (6) retaliation under California Labor Code section 1102.5; (7) negligent supervision; and (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id.) On June 26, 2019, Defendant timely removed the case to this Court. (Doc. No. 1.)

On June 5, 2020, Defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment on all causes of action except Plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim (“reasonable accommodation claim”). (Doc. No. 21.) On August 21, 2020, then-presiding District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel granted in part and denied in part Defendant's motion. (Doc. No. 30.) In doing so, Judge Curiel dismissed only Plaintiff's negligent supervision claim. Between September 2020 and April 2022, the Parties engaged in pre-trial proceedings before Judge Curiel. In pertinent part, on April 26, 2022, the Parties appeared for a telephonic status hearing before Judge Curiel, who ordered the Parties to confer regarding consenting to this Court's jurisdiction. (Doc. No. 71.) On April 27, 2022, the Parties consented to this Court's jurisdiction for all purposes, including trial. (Doc. No. 73.)

On May 23, 2022, the case proceeded to a jury trial. (Doc. No. 75.) On June 1, 2022, Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which this Court denied that same day. (Doc. No. 112.) On June 2, 2022, the first phase of trial concluded. (Doc. No. 113.) On June 3, 2022, the jury returned its verdict, finding for Defendant on all but one of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. No. 114.) The jury awarded Plaintiff $1.7 million in compensatory damages, specifically $850,000 for past non-economic damages and $850,000 for future non-economic damages, on her lone successful claim for failure to engage in the interactive process (“interactive process claim”). (Id.; Doc. No. 117.) In so deciding, the jury answered affirmatively to Question 32 of the Special Verdict Forms, finding “by clear and convincing evidence that one or more officers, directors, or managing agents of Costco engaged in malicious, oppressive, or fraudulent conduct towards Ms. Martinez.” (Doc. No. 117, 14.) The case then proceeded to its second phase of trial to resolve the matter of punitive damages.

The second phase of trial began and ended on June 6, 2022. (Doc. No. 120.) Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) as to punitive damages for lack of evidence of Defendant's financial condition. (Doc. No. 128, 2068:1-4.) The Court denied Defendant's motion on the record. (Id., 2068:8-13.) Later that same day, the jury returned its verdict in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $150,000 in punitive damages. (Doc. No. 129.) On June 9, 2022, judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $1,700,000 in non-economic damages and $150,000 in punitive damages. (Doc. No. 130.) On July 7, 2022, Defendant filed its instant Motion, which is now ripe for this Court's resolution.


The undisputed facts of this case are well known to the Parties and thoroughly recited in Judge Curiel's Order on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 30.) The Court now revisits the undisputed facts pertinent to Defendant's post-trial request for relief and supplements the record with trial testimony accordingly.

a. Plaintiff's Work History at Costco

Plaintiff was a long-time Costco employee. She worked for the Company for nearly 26 years between October 1993 and March 2019. (Trial Tr. at 209:7-8; Doc. No. 23-1, P's Response to D's SSUF, Nos. 1, 46.) She began her career at Costco as a front-end clerk at the Kearny Mesa warehouse. (Id.; Doc. No. 21-5, McConnell Decl., Ex. 1, Martinez Dep. at 73:13-21.) In 1997, Plaintiff transitioned to a position as an Inventory Control Specialist, which was based out of Costco's San Diego Regional Office. (Trial Tr. at 209:8-10.) Plaintiff worked in this role until 2002, when she was promoted to her first management role as an Assistant Buyer. (Trial Tr. at 209:10-12; Doc. No. 21-5, McConnell Decl., Ex. 1, Martinez Dep. at 74:19-75:15.) Plaintiff served as an Assistant Buyer for the next five years. (Id.) In February 2007, she was promoted to a Buyer for Costco's locations in Mexico and was initially responsible for the Softlines Department. (Id.) Plaintiff later transitioned to the Housewares Department and remained in her role as a Buyer for Mexico until her resignation in March 2019. (Trial Tr. at 224:1-3; Doc. No. 103 at 1315:16-18.)

b. Plaintiff's Supervisors at Costco

Julie Daleo, a General Merchandise Manager, (“Daleo”) supervised Plaintiff for the last 12 years of her employment at Costco up until her resignation. (Trial Tr. at 253:8-9; Doc. No. 23-4, Gruenberg Decl., Ex. 2, Daleo Dep. at 19:19-20:4.) Daleo reported to Steve Mantanona, Vice President General Merchandise Manager (“Mantanona”). (Id. at 212:69; Doc. No. 23-1, P's Response to D's SSUF, No. 7.) Beginning in March 2018, Mantanona reported to Russ Miller, Executive Vice President of Costco (“Miller”). (Id. at 212:10-12; Doc. No. 23-1, P's Response to D's SSUF, No. 8.) Miller succeeded Dennis Zook (“Zook”). (Id. at 507:25-508:9.) Daleo and Mantanona were both involved in the decision to promote Plaintiff from an Assistant Buyer to a Buyer. (Id. at 486:5-7; Doc. No. 23-4, Gruenberg Decl., Ex. 2, Daleo Dep. at 19:13-18.)

c. Plaintiff's Job Duties

As a Buyer, Plaintiff was responsible for sourcing goods for Costco stores in Mexico and ensuring those products were ultimately stocked on store shelves. When Plaintiff was promoted to Buyer, the job description specified the Buyer “Identifies product[s] and negotiates terms of purchase and delivery for items to be sold in U.S. outlets of a membership warehouse chain. Tracks item performance. Oversees and directs activities of Assistant Buyer and Inventory Control Specialist. Travels to attend trade shows, location openings, and business meetings.” (Id. at 488:18-489:17, Ex. 2; see also Doc. No. 21-5, D's App'x, Ex. 6 at 278.) Specific to Costco's travel requirement for Buyers, the job description indicated the Buyer “Travels by air and auto for 3-5 day trips 6-10 times per year, with occasional trips of 7-10 days, to attend trade shows, location openings, regional meetings, factory tours, and other business meetings.” (Id.)

When Miller succeeded Zook in 2018, the change in leadership triggered a change in working conditions for Buyers. Specifically, Costco began to enforce a pre-existing requirement that Buyers for Mexico travel to Mexico at least three times yearly (“travel requirement”). (Trial Tr. at 778: 9-17, 1087:24-1085:3.) Prior to the change in leadership, the travel requirement was loosely enforced. (Trial Tr. at 778:4-17.) Mantanona first raised the travel requirement in an August 29, 2018, email to Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 103, 1240:1924; Doc. No. 23-3, Gruenberg Decl., Ex. 1, Martinez Dep. at 306:5-11; Doc. No. 21-5, D's App'x, Ex. 8 at 282-283.) In his email, Mantanona explained “ it is vital for us to visit our market [in] Mexico. I asked that all buyers and assistant buyers get into our market to visit warehouses and competition at least three times per year...” (Id.) At trial, Plaintiff testified that, prior to Mantanona's 2018 email, no one at Costco told her she was required to visit Mexico three times per year. (Doc. No. 103, 1240:22-24.) The travel requirement also had not been listed in Plaintiff's job description. (Id. at 690:15-17.)

Mantanona formalized the travel requirement in a November 8, 2018, memorandum to Plaintiff. (Id. at 776:23-777:3; Doc. No. 21-5, D's App'x, Ex. 14 at 302-03.) In his memorandum, Mantanona emphasized “It is imperative that you be in country to personally attend critical activities that can only be effectively done with ‘boots on the ground,' including visits to our Mexico Costco locations... Travel to Mexico is an essential and non-negotiable part of your job.” (Doc. No. 103. at 776:23-777:3.) Up to and including the date of her resignation, Plaintiff disagreed with Costco's decision to enforce the travel requirement and was vocal about her concerns to travel to Mexico.

d. Plaintiff's Work Performance as a Buyer

Throughout Plaintiff's tenure as a Buyer, Daleo conducted Plaintiff's annual performance evaluations. (Trial Tr. at 255:7-8; Doc. No. 23-4, Gruenberg Decl., Ex. 2, Daleo Dep. at 19:19-20:4.) In deposition, Daleo...

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