After three weeks of trial, an all-white Santa Barbara jury awarded an Ecuadorian man $1.13 million in his discrimination lawsuit against Teledyne RESON Inc.
Carlos Ortiz, 55, had worked for the Goleta sonar equipment maker — which is a subsidiary of Danish corporation Teledyne RESON — for nearly 20 years when he was fired in 2011 without warning. He filed suit not long after and said on Friday he feels vindicated by the verdict. “It was three years of waiting to see justice, and the outcome is completely satisfactory to me,” he said. “I see that the legal system in the U.S. works.”
In court filings and over the course of the trial, Ortiz and his attorney, Edward Lowenschuss, detailed how Ortiz had been underpaid, unfairly denied promised promotions, misled and mismanaged by company executives, and finally terminated absent any explanation. (The lawsuit is at the bottom of this article.) Ortiz — an engineer with a master’s degree and a PhD who’s taught at Santa Barbara City College — started working for Denmark-based RESON in 1992 when it was a family-owned company of eight employees with a branch in Goleta. Over the years, it grew to 200 employees in six offices around the world. In 2013, RESON merged with Teledyne Technologies.
“There was a culture of discrimination at RESON,” Lowenschuss told the jury in his closing argument, noting how a former vice president of sales testified how RESON actively favored less-qualified Danish employees over their more qualified peers and said that it was well-known in the organization that “if you don’t have a Danish passport, you aren’t going anywhere with the company.” Lowenschuss also stated, “There was a term used by employees throughout the company called ‘Danish immunity,’ which meant that if you were Danish, no matter how poorly you performed or how badly you screwed up, your job was safe.”
Lowenschuss would go on to cite examples of this double standard and explained that Ortiz’s termination had nothing to do with his job performance as his evaluations were “outstanding” and his productivity was described by supervisors as “excellent.” Much of Ortiz’s lawsuit was based on the qualifications (or lack thereof) of the employee who replaced him, Lowenschuss said in an interview this week. He pointed to the destruction of company documents as further evidence that RESON has knowingly violated California employment laws, and said Ortiz was also singled out because of his age and the “reasonable accommodations” he asked for after suffering workplace injuries.
The $1.13 million judgment covers the past earnings Ortiz lost because of his unfair treatment and the emotional distress he was made to endure, said Lowenschuss, who also described in his closing argument how company execs made Ortiz take a business trip to Mexico in 2010 during a time of heightened cartel violence because the other RESON engineers were afraid to go and because they said Ortiz would be safer because he isn’t white. During an interview on Friday, Ortiz admitted he speaks with with a heavy accent, but said he always did his job, and did it well.
The years of workplace angst dropped him into a deep depression, he said, and he’s received therapy and medication because of it. “I never thought I would go through all this,” he explained. “Discrimination is real, and it’s very awful. … I kept asking myself, ‘Why are they doing this to me?’” Ortiz, married with two children, has had a hard time finding a new job since his firing and expects he’ll have to move out of the Santa Barbara area to continue with his career. He said it was also difficult to find a lawyer to take his case, but that Lowenschuss “felt what I was feeling” and handled the case “very well.”
Ortiz claimed that as his complaint worked its way through the court system at the same time he was applying for new jobs, RESON’s attorneys would often serve subpoenas to the companies he was applying to, which may have hurt his employment chances. He also pointed to a separate discrimination case involving a Teledyne RESON Inc. sales manager named Alan Coles that is scheduled to go to trial this fall. In testimony for Ortiz’s case, Coles called RESON’s work environment a “toxic culture” that favors its Danish employees. Stephen Apsey, general manager for Teledyne RESON Inc., declined to comment for this story. “We do not comment on litigation,” he said in an email.
Lowenschuss issued a statement this week about the trial’s conclusion and how the case is reflective of legal issues both common and unique to Santa Barbara: “This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, and national origin,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, this case shows that discrimination still exists in the workplace today and still exists in our community. What is encouraging is that an all-white Santa Barbara jury was able to look beyond the jurors’ own personal circumstances and experiences, to stand up for a fellow member of the community who was a victim of discrimination.”
“Yet, the lack of minority representation on the jury is an example of how underrepresented Latinos and other minorities are in Santa Barbara, which makes them further vulnerable to unequal treatment. A jury is supposed to be a fair cross section of the community, which means that there should be at least some minority representation. From my experience, this is not an isolated incident of lack of minority representation on juries in Santa Barbara. One need only look to Los Angeles where minorities have a greater political voice and the jury pools have much greater diversification in proportion to the diversity of the overall population. We need to address this problem in Santa Barbara.”