Calif. justices slash punitive damages award in McKesson case

Chris Rizo Dec. 1, 2009, 1:00am

Kathryn Werdegar

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-The California Supreme Court has slashed the punitive damages award that McKesson Corp. must pay a former employee who said she was harassed in the workplace over her panic attacks and had body odor.

A Yolo County jury had awarded the San Francisco-based company to pay Charlene Roby $20 million. The 2004 award was cut by the state's high court Monday to $3.8 million.

Roby, a customer service worker, sued McKesson over claims that in her longtime career with the company her supervisor made disparaging comments in front of others about Roby's conditions.

She worked at the drug distribution company's West Sacramento facility.

At trial, Roby was awarded $3.511 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages against McKesson, in addition to $500,000 in compensatory damages and $3,000 in punitive damages against Roby's supervisor, Karen Schoener.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal found there was no harassment by Schoener, cutting compensatory damages to $1.405 million and punitive damages to $2 million.

The California Supreme Court reversed the appeals court, finding there was harassment and reinstated the $500,000 in compensatory damages, but made it against both McKesson and Schoener.

The high court also reinstated the $3,000 punitive damages against Schoener, and ordered punitive damages equal to the $1.905 million in total compensatory damages.

In its ruling, California's justices said they were forced to limit punitive damages in the case in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"We agree with the Court of Appeal that the punitive damages exceeded the federal constitutional limit, but we disagree with the Court of Appeal on the amount of this limit," Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the majority.

"We hold that in the circumstances of this case the amount of compensatory damages sets the ceiling for the punitive damages," she added.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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