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Goleta Engineer Awarded $1.13 Million in Discrimination Case

Carlos Ortiz Sued Sonar Equipment Maker Teledyne RESON Inc. for Favoring Its Danish Employees


Friday, July 25, 2014
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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.”

Comments

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It seems a bit odd that the plaintiff's attorney emphasizes racial discrimination in this case. Discrimination on the basis of race occurs at the time of hiring, not after twenty years of employment. It is not as though the Danes suddenly discovered Ortiz was Hispanic.

dewdly (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 12:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

dewdly, the way I read it, the discrimination did not happen suddenly "after twenty years of employment". According to this article the discrimination seemed to have happened throughout his employment. How did you miss that in the article?

Apparently you have never been hired to do a job, performed supremely well throughout, given excellent reviews by management, promised promotions, requested promotions, and instead, not only were you not promoted, you continually watched less qualified "insiders" get promoted over you, discovered that documents to support your ongoing experiences had been destroyed, and to top it off, requested to travel to a dangerous part of a country because of your skin color. That is what I got from this article. Not sure what you got.

If you've never experienced any of this, then your ignorance is understandable and you can consider yourself fortunate.

NativeSB40 (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 3:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The question is why the company would hire him in the first place and keep him on if they had an implacable prejudice against Hispanics? And why would Ortiz accept a job and continue to work there for twenty years if it was so unrewarding? The fact that he was sent to Mexico undoubtedly has more to do with his fluency in Spanish than his "skin color".

The tech companies in California employ large numbers of non-white engineers - in many companies in Silicon Valley whites are a small minority. Engineers from India, Pakistan, and China were hired in part because they would accept lower pay than their white counterparts. Are we to expect a mass of lawsuits charging those employers with racial discrimination and a demand for back wages that would have been paid to the white workers who were not hired?

dewdly (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 6:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Doody, errr dewdley has the uncanny ability to crap on about issues that he / she has absolutely no expertise or knowledge of and is one of my favorite trolls.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 6:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

U mean I'M not U'r favorite troll no more?!

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 6:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 6:59 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@dp14 you will always be my favorite, little buddy.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 7:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

...said Skipper to Gilligan.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 7:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Native, dewdly's mind was made up before the jury's.

ahem (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 7:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

And who are you the professor?

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 7:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

this is why there are no jobs in california all people here do is sue

rocket625 (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 9:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

rocket, here's a company that had jobs. They just played the discrimination game in the wrong state.

We're not in Mississippi anymore, Toto.

ahem (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 9:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

ahem,

The company had jobs and gave one to Mr. Ortiz who accepted employment and agreed to work for the pay and benefits they offered. If he had been a white, heterosexual, male who, after fifteen years of working there, discovered that another engineer with the same qualifications and doing the same job was making more money and had been promoted ahead of him would he have a cause of action for discrimination?

dewdly (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 9:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Agree, this is why jobs are moving out of California. Employment in private industry works best totally at will. If you don't like the conditions, you leave. No entitlements. Save those for government work.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
July 26, 2014 at 10:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

IF I won that much in court I would love the court system too.

AZ2SB (anonymous profile)
July 28, 2014 at 9:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I would say this is the most concerning fact to me:

"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."

The ability of the companies lawyers to ruin this guys life during the case, even it is completely irrelevant, should be addressed. By them doing this they make any labor laws moot because no one in their right mine will pursue discrimination issues because counsel can literally ruin your life while it is at trial with no worry of accountability. I would love to see this guy go after opposing counsel in a civil case if that is at all possible. Probably not. At the very least he should turn their dirty asses into the bar.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
July 28, 2014 at 11:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@Dewdly, perhaps you missed the part about Ortiz working there for 20yrs, starting long before Teledyne took over. That's when the trouble started, when the Danish took over.

Fact is, the egregiously biased environment described here is completely accurate. I know someone that was a high level employee at that company and this is typical of the scenario she described regularly. I can tell you this is not the first complaint like this, Teledyne/Reson has been called out on this before - not sure that any of them made it through a trial though. We'll never know about the settlement cases.

As for the company's actions with his subsequent employment opportunities, it would seem to me that is another lawsuit waiting to happen. That's not discriminatory, that's vindictive and predatory.

Pretty common knowledge amongst the people working in this industry that the environment at Reson is exactly as described above. Good for Ortiz for taking them to task.

cartoonz (anonymous profile)
July 29, 2014 at 3:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This is really a result of companies having too much power - power that is being given to them by the government.

Reson no doubt has a lot of patents - patents that the government is obliged to protect for them. This guy and some other Reson employees could have easily gone off and started their own company and hired folks discriminating only by their skills for the job. They would have been able to produce better work at a lower cost since they weren't giving special favors to less desirable employees based on their race. Reson would have probably eventually gone out of business due to their discriminatory hiring practices.

However, since the patents existed the government protected their monopoly on those patents and that alone allows this company to work in a sort of monopoly environment where they don't have to compete with other companies in the same way they would if they had a free market and no intellectual property laws which significantly stifle innovation and production.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
July 29, 2014 at 4:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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