LOS ANGELES — A jury Monday ordered sriracha sauce-maker Huy Fong Foods Inc. to pay $1.025 million to a former mixer who alleged he was retaliated against for complaining that conditions at the plant contributed to his asthma and other medical problems.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for several days before finding in favor of Juan Carlos Bravo on some of his claims while rejecting others. The panel did not conclude that anyone at the company acted with malice, oppression or fraud against Bravo, which would have triggered a second phase of trial to see if Bravo was entitled to punitive damages.
Bravo worked for the Irwindale-based company from September 2013 until his firing in June 2017, when defense attorneys said he was caught on video causing contamination of the sriracha sauce.
In his lawsuit filed in May 2018, Bravo maintained that he had asthma and that fumes he was exposed to while cleaning drains exacerbated his condition, so he asked a supervisor for face masks or an assignment change. His request was denied and he was admonished for even suggesting he be allowed to wear a mask, according to his suit.
A few days after Bravo’s complaints to the first supervisor, a second boss confronted him and said, “You’re just too lazy,” then berated him about his medical condition, which also included stomach and respiratory infections and pain in his back, neck, knees and hands, according to the suit.
In their court papers, defense attorneys stated that the company had surveillance video of Bravo contaminating ingredients which were used to make Sriracha sauce. Bravo admitted in his deposition that his action was improper, but testified that is what he was taught to do, according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
Bravo allegedly poured sriracha sauce ingredients that had spilled onto a dirty piece of cardboard into a white box, then spewed the ingredients into the sauce itself, according to court papers of the defense attorneys, which further state that Bravo was taught during a food safety class after his hiring that dirt and debris from the floor would cause food contamination if mixed with food.