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The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has upheld a $3.9 million jury verdict for the former president and CEO of Advanta Mortgage Co. — who said he was forced out of his job because the company wanted a younger image — and tacked on more than $2 million to the award. At the time the verdict was originally handed down, lawyers said it might have been the largest ever in a single-plaintiff employment discrimination case in the Eastern District. The jury found that the Spring House, Pa.-based Advanta Corp. discriminated against Milton Riseman not because of his age but because of retaliating against him by terminating him immediately after he filed a claim for age discrimination. The jury found Advanta’s actions violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Federal judge Anita B. Brody of the Eastern District was faced with Advanta’s motion for a new trial in Riseman v. Advanta Corp. She shot down all of Advanta’s arguments, saying there was no reason to disturb the jury’s findings. Riseman, of Radnor, Pa., is a former top executive at Citibank in New York who started working for Advanta in 1992 at age 55. At the time that he says he was forced out, at age 62, he was earning $385,000 plus bonuses that sometimes doubled or even tripled his pay. In his suit, Riseman claimed that when the post of president for the parent company opened up, he was passed over in favor of Olaf Olafsson, a 35-year-old “wunderkind” who had no experience in the financial industry. Riseman’s lawyers — John M. Elliott, Adam B. Krafczek Jr. and Mark J. Schwemler of Elliott Reihner Siedzikowski & Egan — argued that Olafsson set out to oust Riseman and replace him with a man 20 years his junior as president of Advanta Mortgage. At first, Riseman’s lawyers said, Olafsson assured him that the company was just looking for an executive vice president who would report to Riseman. But when Carl Forsythe was hired, he immediately took over as president of Advanta Mortgage, and Riseman was stripped of his title and ordered to vacate his office, the lawyers said. Advanta had strong words of praise for Riseman over the years, they said, and credited him with a “dramatic turnaround” at Advanta Mortgage that “literally saved the company.” Elliott told the jury it would also see direct proof of age discrimination. When Forsythe was recruited, he said, Olafsson referred to Riseman as “Uncle Milty” and “Grumpy.” But the company’s lawyer, Robert Goldich of Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen in Philadelphia, argued that Advanta had a strong record of hiring older executives and that there was no real proof of any age discrimination. The nickname “Uncle Milty” was nothing more than a term of endearment used by workers who liked Riseman, he said. In its verdict, the jury found that Advanta had retaliated against Riseman for complaining of discrimination. It also found that the company had committed a “willful” violation of the ADEA. The jury then awarded Riseman about $3.9 million in damages and found that about $1.3 million of that amount was for Riseman’s “backpay.” It also found that the company had illegally withheld more than $2.5 million in wages in violation of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law. Brody’s decision proved to increase that award significantly. Because the jury found that the violation was willful and that Advanta violated Pennsylvania wage laws, Brody increased the backpay portion of the verdict by $640,500. The judge also added $115,032 as prejudgment interest on the backpay awarded under the ADEA. Advanta renewed its motion for summary judgment before the court. The employer argued primarily that there was not evidence for the jury to find that it took any adverse employment action against Riseman after he filed the discrimination claim. Brody said that argument was not true. The jury could have reasonably decided that by terminating Riseman and denying him bonus and severance pay, Advanta retaliated against him, Brody said. Advanta also claimed it was entitled to a new trial because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. However, Brody said the award was “consistent with the evidence and certainly does not ‘shock the conscience.’ “ Shannon P. Duffy contributed to this report.

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