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General Electric Co. manager Stephen M. Jacobs lost his case when a jury concluded he hadn’t been the victim of age discrimination. But in May 17 arguments before the Connecticut Supreme Court, some of the justices appeared concerned the jury may not have received a correct explanation of the law from Superior Court Judge Julia L. Aurigemma, possibly entitling Jacobs to a new trial. The flaw, if one is found, boils down to the meaning of the term “i.e.” Jacobs’ lawyer — Jacques J. Parenteau of Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau’s New London, Conn., office — contended Aurigemma’s jury charge stated the law too narrowly. She told jurors they had to find “that General Electric’s reasons for laying [Jacobs] off were merely a pretext, i.e. one of the real reasons for laying off the plaintiff was intentional age discrimination. To prove pretext,” the judge said, “the plaintiff may show by a preponderance of the evidence that General Electric’s reason is not worthy of belief or that more likely than not it is not a true reason or the only true reason for General Electric’s decision to lay off the plaintiff and that the plaintiff’s age was a motivating factor for GE’s decision.” Richard Voigt, of the Hartford, Conn., offices of McCarter & English, handled the appeal for Fairfield-based GE. When it came Voigt’s time to argue, Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille interrupted to direct him to the above language. “Are you saying that’s a correct statement of the law? It doesn’t sound correct to me,” Vertefeuille said. Parenteau argued the law required either a showing that GE’s legitimate reasons were pretextual or that age discrimination was a motivating factor in Jacob’s termination. “Doesn’t ‘i.e.’ mean equaling — pretext equals age discrimination?” Vertefeuille asked Voigt. (According to Black’s Law Dictionary, “i.e.” is short for the Latin “id est” or “that is,” as in “that is to say.”) As it was phrased by Aurigemma, Vertefeuille noted, the jury had to find false reasons plus discrimination and wasn’t instructed it could find discriminatory motivation alone. But Voigt said that the use of the phrase “real reasons” implied the jury could consider multiple reasons: some true and some not. Justice Richard N. Palmer was blunt in his questioning of Voigt. “Pretext is a term of art,” he said. “She didn’t use it in that fashion. Why?” Voigt explained that Aurigemma made changes in her charge in response to Parenteau’s requests, but Parenteau countered that he never wanted the charge as it was given by Aurigemma. Justice David M. Borden called the charge puzzling. “It’s confusing to me,” he said. Vertefeuille added, “It’s just not clear to me that the jury understood they could find discrimination without finding pretext.” Voigt pointed out that Aurigemma used the word “or” and said she was trying to give the jury choices. He argued that the Bridgeport GE plant, where Jacobs was employed, is “just hanging on by a fingernail,” down from thousands of employees to 71, of whom only four are salaried workers. The personnel decision makers, he said, “would select the people most critical to keeping the plant open,” and not jeopardize their own jobs. Jacobs had secretly taped his former boss, Paul Texiera, saying Jacobs was in a “dead-end job” at GE and that Texiera left because he knew, if he wasn’t a vice president by 40, he wouldn’t get a “power job.” Parenteau wanted Aurigemma to prevent his trial opponent from inflaming the jury with questions about “secret taping” that implied illegality. Such recording is legal, Parenteau noted. Aurigemma’s brief statement to that effect, at the end of cross-examination, was too little too late, he said. Voigt, however, claimed that Texiera told Jacobs he was in a “dead-end job” because he was in Bridgeport, not because of his GE employment.

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