A jury awarded $10 million in damages Friday to a corporate recruiter who claimed an Oregon semiconductor company discouraged him from recruiting women and minority candidates for jobs, then fired him when he continued to do so.
Jeff Abraham, owner of the Technical Resources executive recruiting agency in Huntington Beach, had filed a lawsuit alleging that the human relations director for the firm, Hyundai Semiconductor America Inc. in Eugene, Ore., told him not to send resumes from black or female candidates.
"This company did things that weren't lawful and didn't practice fair employment," Abraham said shortly after the award was announced in Orange County Superior Court. "They tried to use me to shield them from having to deal with women or minority candidates, and I refused."
After a 3 1/2-week trial, the jury took less than two days to agree on the damages. It ordered the firm to pay $9.5 million. It assessed $500,000 more against the human relations director, James Menzie.
Attorneys for Hyundai could not be reached for comment Friday, but the company issued a statement denying the allegations and vowing to appeal "all aspects" of the judgment. The jury's findings were "inconsistent with the law," the company contended.
Hyundai Semiconductor "has not ever, nor does it now discriminate, in hiring or contract practices," the company said. "We are confident that an appeal will allow us an opportunity to counter the findings in this case."
Abraham alleged in his lawsuit that the company and its parent, San Jose-based Hyundai Electronics America Inc., tried to drive him out of business after he complained to top executives in 1996 about alleged kickback demands and other unethical practices. The parent company, itself a subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate Hyundai Group, had initially been named a defendant in the lawsuit but was dropped before the trial.
The recruiter said he had been contacted earlier that year and was asked to recruit managers for a new manufacturing plant that Hyundai Semiconductor was building in Oregon.
Rodney Perlman, the Los Angeles-based attorney who represented Abraham at trial, said the case "is the clearest example of corporate discrimination I've ever seen. It was unbelievable. It was vicious."
Loyola Law School professor Catherine Fisk, who specializes in labor and employment, called the jury award sizable but said it was not unprecedented for an individual plaintiff.
"The fact that the jury awarded $10 million doesn't mean that the plaintiff is ever going to collect $10 million," Fisk said. "These awards are often reduced by a judge."
Abraham said he stood to make a minimum of $300,000 a year from his arrangement with Hyundai had he abided by the company's wishes. He said the award would offset some of that lost income but that his legal fight was based more on principle.
"This came about because I wasn't going to be a good ol' boy," he said. "I wasn't going to keep my mouth shut. I was going to do the right thing."
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