Idaho man wins $888,000 in discrimination lawsuit

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - A federal jury has awarded nearly $888,000 in damages to a man who said his Idaho employer discriminated against him because he is Hispanic.

Ricky Garcia began working for PSI Environmental Systems in Twin Falls in 2005, with a starting wage of $13 an hour and the promise of a raise after 90 days of probation, The Times-News reported.

"I was OK with it," said Garcia, who grew up in Twin Falls and had recently moved back to the area from California. "I knew the cost of living was less here, and I needed a job."

But Garcia contended he never got the promised raise after 90 days, nor did he receive one that had been promised after a year on the job.

Court records state Garcia received his first raise nearly 18 months after his hire, an increase of 72 cents. Eventually, Garcia said, he figured out his Caucasian co-workers were making between $18 and $21 per hour.

According to court records, Garcia applied for a maintenance manager position with the company in February 2007 and thought he'd be a natural fit for the job since he had previous experience as a head mechanic at another company. But Garcia contended he wasn't given the promotion, and instead it was filled by three other people and offered to a fourth - all of whom were Caucasians, had less experience and had been with the company for less time.

Garcia also contended others at the company told him that neither he nor other Hispanic workers would ever be promoted, and if he quit "plenty of other Mexicans would be happy to take his place."

He quit the company in 2007, taking a maintenance manager position with another company. Days after quitting, Garcia said he saw an ad for his old job, and PSI was offering between $18 and $21 an hour along with a $1,000 signing bonus. That's when he contacted the Idaho Department of Labor, which sent him to the Idaho Human Rights Commission. In February 2009, the commission found PSI had discriminated against Garcia.

He sued PSI Environmental Systems and its parent company, Waste Connections Inc., in 2010. PSI Environmental Systems provides waste collecting, destroying and processing services.

The companies denied Garcia's allegations in court documents, arguing company officials exercised reasonable care in preventing and correcting any discrimination and that any adverse actions PSI took with regard to Garcia were based on legitimate business reasons totally unrelated to his race or national origin.

The company also maintained in court documents that while some mechanics were paid more than Garcia, others were paid less - including non-Hispanic employees - and that all the pay decisions were based on legitimate business reasons.

Jurors ultimately sided with Garcia, awarding him $887,621 for punitive damages, lost wages and emotional distress.

"I feel relieved and happy," Garcia said. "Justice has been served."

PSI's district manager, Josh Brown, said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit and that the company, as a whole, had decided not to discuss the case. A receptionist at Waste Connections' regional office said the regional vice president was on vacation and no one else in the office could comment.