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Legal Alert: Jury Reminds Employers that Age Discrimination is No Joking Matter

By on January 31, 2017 in Discrimination with 0 Comments

On January 26, 2017, after analyzing four days of trial testimony, a jury in the Federal District Court of New Jersey issued a verdict that Lockheed Martin (“Lockheed”) must pay $51.5 million to a Plaintiff in an age discrimination lawsuit.

The lawsuit, alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the New Jersey Law against Discrimination (“LAD”), was brought by Plaintiff Robert Braden, who held the title of project specialist at Lockheed’s Moorestown, New Jersey location. Braden became a Lockheed employee in 1995 and was included in a 2012 reduction in force, when he was 66 years old. Out of 110 employees at the Moorestown location with the same title as Braden, five people were laid off and they were all over the age of 50.  Braden alleged that the company used no objective measurements to choose who would be laid off and that at the same time that the layoff took place, Lockheed continued to recruit and hire younger employees.  Braden also claimed that he was paid less than younger employees with similar positions and that he overheard company officials suggesting that it was preferable to give older workers lower evaluations and lower pay because they “have nowhere else to go.” Lockheed defended its actions by asserting that the layoff decisions were made for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.  Lockheed argued that Braden’s performance was consistently below average and that there was a lack of impending work for Braden’s skill set.

Ultimately, the jury found in Braden’s favor and awarded $520,000 in back pay under the ADEA, which was then doubled because the jury found that Lockheed’s violation of the ADEA was willful, and another $520,000 as emotional distress damages.  Braden was also awarded $50 million in punitive damages under the LAD.

This jury verdict sends a clear message to employers that age discrimination will not be tolerated and that a company should pay attention to the age of its employees when considering a reduction in force (or other adverse employment action). It is best for an employer to consult with legal counsel before conducting a reduction in force or before making any significant personnel decisions to ensure that the decision is made in compliance with the law.



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