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A federal jury in Philadelphia returned a swift verdict for Boeing Thursday in Roath v. Boeing, rejecting a secretary’s claims that the aircraft manufacturer had fired her on the basis of her age and gender. Helen Jane Roath had asked for nearly $637,000 in lost earnings and liquidated damages, plus punitives. “It was one of the fastest verdicts I had ever seen,” said M. Frances Ryan, a partner in the labor and employment practice group at Dechert in Philadelphia who represented Boeing along with associate Thomas K. Johnson. Ryan said the seven-person jury of mixed ages deliberated just 20 minutes before returning its decision for Boeing. HARD TIMES FOR BOEING In June 1998, Roath, then 61, was laid off from her $37,350 job as an administrative specialist at Boeing’s helicopter-building plant in Ridley Township, Delaware County. At the time, Ryan said, Boeing was just struggling to keep the plant open and was experiencing widespread layoffs. “Her supervisor found her another job as a data technician in another department, which paid $3,000 less than her first job,” Ryan said. “But the other secretary in her department had been let go, too.” Roath refused the new job offer. She filed both federal and state claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, alleging that she was fired for sex and age discrimination. However, Judge Berle M. Schiller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Boeing’s motion for a directed verdict as to the state law claims and the Title VII sex discrimination claim, dismissing those claims. Roath had not specified a damage request for punitives in her pretrial memo, Ryan said. Although there was just one woman on the jury, Ryan said she wasn’t worried about the demographic makeup of the panel, because it was a clear case for Boeing on both the age and sex discrimination claims. “The other secretary who was laid off in [Roath's] department was 40,” Ryan said. “A human resources manager testified who had been laid off and left the company just two weeks after Roath. She was 51.” Numerous managers and other employees testified that the layoff at Boeing was purely economic, Ryan said. “I think it became clear [to the jury] that Boeing treated [Roath] fairly and that her manager had no choice but to eliminate her job. Much of her job had been automated by the use of computers at Boeing. Managers were doing things for themselves, using e-mail and computerized meeting planning. “I think the jury believed that the company went further than it had to in finding another job for her, and they did right by her. She received 26 weeks of severance pay, because she elected to take the layoff.” Since Roath had worked for Boeing for a total of more than 30 years, she also took her Boeing pension, Ryan said. “I think it was a complete vindication for Boeing.” So far, Ryan has not heard any indication from Roath’s attorney, Alan B. Epstein of Spector Gadon & Rosen in Philadelphia, that there will be an appeal. Epstein did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

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