A federal jury in Camden has issued a verdict that would require Lockheed Martin Corp. to pay $51.5 million, including $50 million in punitive damages, in an age discrimination suit by an engineer, according to court records.
The suit claimed Lockheed Martin had a practice of laying off older employees while hiring younger workers for the same position. Plaintiff Robert Braden, who held the title of project specialist, senior staff at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Moorestown, filed suit after he was included in a reduction in force at the facility in July 2012, when he was 66. Out of 110 employees at the Moorestown plant with that title, five were laid off, including Braden. All five were over the age of 50.
Braden is the oldest of six people reporting to his manager, and the only one who was laid off. The others were 35, 38, 42, 42 and 52, his suit said.
Braden was never told the reason he was chosen to be laid off, and the company used no objective measurements to choose which workers were chosen for layoffs, his suit claimed. Meanwhile, as the company laid off large numbers of workers, it continued to recruit and hire younger employees for positions for which Braden was qualified, according to the suit.
Lockheed Martin, for its part, maintained that its employment decisions were made for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.
The verdict was awarded Thursday, following a four-day trial before U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb. Braden was awarded $520,000 in back pay under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which was doubled on a finding that the company’s violation was willful, and another $520,000 in compensation for emotional distress. The jury deliberated for nearly two and a half hours on the compensatory damages, and it held separate deliberations for another 47 minutes before awarding punitive damages under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
Braden began working at the Moorestown facility in 1984, when it was owned by RCA, and he remained working there as it came under a series of owners due to mergers and acquisitions. He became a Lockheed Martin employee in 1995. The plant’s products include weapons guidance systems for the U.S. military.
Braden brought claims under the NJLAD as well as the ADEA. The jury’s deliberation came after Bumb rejected the plaintiff’s representation that the causation standard for age discrimination under the NJLAD was lower than for the ADEA. Braden argued that the NJLAD requires a lesser, “motivating factor” standard, which would require a jury to consider whether age played a role or was a motivating factor in the company’s decision to lay off the plaintiff. The defendant argued that the same “but for” standard that applies to the ADEA also is used for the NJLAD. The “but for” standard requires a finding that age played a role in the employer’s decision-making and had a determinative influence on the outcome. Bumb agreed with the defendant that the same “but for” standard applying to the ADEA also applied to the NJLAD.
Braden was represented by Rahul Munshi of Console Mattiacci in Moorestown. Munshi declined to comment on the verdict, but Stephen Console of his firm said in a statement, “The jury sent a loud and clear message to corporate America: no company is too big to follow the civil rights laws of this amazing country of ours. This is a verdict that should make every employee in this country proud and happy.”
Lead counsel for Lockheed Martin was Tamika Nordstrom of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete in Atlanta. She declined to comment. Lockheed Martin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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