Woman wins wrongful termination lawsuit after 2 Investigates report

A KTVU 2 Investigates report helped spark the award of hundreds of thousands of dollars to a woman who was wrongfully terminated over a family-leave discrepancy.

Ivania Centeno was a 13-year employee at a Bon Appetit café inside Genentech in South San Francisco.

She said she was let go in 2017 for taking time off to care for her dying mother-in-law, in violation of company policy.

After more than a year fighting for a resolution, 2 Investigates aired a report in February highlighting Centeno’s situation and the bigger issue of a legal loophole in California that prevents in-laws from being covered under family-leave laws.

Under California’s paid leave law, care of in-laws is covered. However, under the California Family Rights Act, care of in-laws is not covered. It’s not clear which law takes precedent. It will require legislative changes to fix.

In Centeno’s case, she claims when her mother-in-law became deathly ill, she was given permission by Bon Appetit to fly to Nicaragua to help care for her.

Her mother-in-law later died and Centeno headed back to the states to return to her job. However, when she returned, Bon Appetit fired her claiming she had missed too many days of work and that her mother-in-law didn’t qualify under the family leave policy.

Records show bosses blamed computer software that made the firing decision. Centeno’s trip and circumstances of her recent and previous absences for a work-related injury, were entered into a computer system that arrived the conclusion she should be terminated.

2 Investigates requested interviews and answers to the lawsuit from Bon Appetit but have yet to get any, even after showing up at the corporate office in Palo Alto.

Court records show in April the case was finally resolved and mentioned “the trial preparation and media work were both useful to the ultimate resolutions of the case and should therefore be fully compensated.”

Centeno was given an undisclosed amount of back pay, unemployment benefits and also awarded $211,795 in attorney fees and $25,603 in court costs.

“The case was at an impasse before [2 Investigates] got involved and afterwards it resolved and I think KTVU’s involvement had a lot to do with that,” attorney Rob Nelson representing Centeno said. “I hope any employer would walk away from a situation like this with the message that you need to treat your employees like human beings.”

Centeno has a new job and is relieved and happy the case has come to a close. “I feel less stressed and I feel more relaxed,” she said. “I have my life back.”

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