Photo: J. Albert Diaz/ALM

A federal appeals court has upheld a $1.3 million jury verdict in an age-bias suit that alleged the real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield unlawfully fired a 63-year-old software engineer.

A jury awarded the former employee Yury Rinsky $425,000 in compensatory damages and $850,000 in punitive damages in a Boston federal district court. Rinsky claimed in a 2015 complaint that he was fired because of his age and disability.

The dispute focused on Rinsky’s move to Massachusetts from the company’s home office in New York, where he had worked for 27 years. Cushman & Wakefield disputed that he had been approved for a transfer. Rinsky declined to resign after the company said he would need to move back to New York, and he was then terminated.

Rinsky claimed his managers used his move to Massachusetts as a pretext to fire him based on his age, they replaced him with a 48-year-old engineer and they treated a younger worker’s move to Florida differently. After a five-day trial, the jury sided with Rinsky on the age discrimination claim. The company then appealed the decision.

Cushman & Wakefield’s lawyers at Holland & Knight and the Dallas firm Parsons McEntire McCleary argued that the New York City Human Rights Law should not have applied to Rinsky’s case because he was a resident of Massachusetts. They also argued the jury instructions were unfairly biased against the company, and that there was a lack of evidence that age was a key factor in the former employee’s termination.

“Contrary to Rinsky’s assertions, C&W was not secretly planning to terminate him in favor of a younger employee. In fact, just the opposite was true,” Holland & Knight partner Benjamin McGovern wrote in court papers. “Rinsky was a valued employee to whom C&W had just granted a substantial raise and bonus. It was Rinsky, not C&W, who planned a clandestine move to Massachusetts and forced it upon his superiors who had no desire or motivation to replace him with a younger employee.”

Cushman & Wakefield attorneys also did no respond to request for comment.

John Dennehy of Dennehy Law and Mark Szal of Szal Law Group, in Boston, represented Rinsky, who is now 67, in the First Circuit.

“We are pleased but not surprised by the court’s decision,” Szal said Monday. “It was quite clear at oral argument that the panel gave zero credence to Cushman & Wakefield’s convoluted arguments, and Judge [Gary] Katzmann’s thorough opinion confirmed that. This has been a long and difficult road for Mr. Rinsky and we are glad that it is reaching its end.”

Katzmann, a judge on the U.S. Court of International Trade who was sitting by designation, led the unanimous panel. The court concluded that the trial judge correctly applied the New York City Human Rights Law to Rinsky’s claims.

“It would create a significant loophole in the statutory protection that the New York Court of Appeals deemed was provided to non-resident employees, if by the chicanery of misleading or lulling employees into working remotely from outside New York City before terminating them, an employer could immunize itself from liability,” Katzmann wrote.

The court also rejected Cushman & Wakefield’s claims that there was not “one iota of evidence in the record to explain why C&W would have been motivated” to fire Rinsky.

“C&W has failed to meet its burden of showing either that there was no legally sufficient basis for the verdict or that the district court abused its discretion,” the appeals court concluded. The court said Rinsky “established a prima facie case of age discrimination.”

The First Circuit’s decision in Rinsky v. Cushman & Wakefield:

 


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