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A jury’s award of $50 million in punitive damages to a Lockheed Martin Corp. engineer who was fired at age 66 is excessive and needs review, but the worker can keep $1.56 million awarded for age bias, a federal judge ruled.
A retrial is required to determine how much, if anything, the company should pay to deter such misconduct in the future, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey said Dec. 18. Robert Braden didn’t show that “upper management” at Lockheed knew that he was placed in a group by himself when managers were deciding who should be let go during a reduction in force, the court said in overturning the jury’s punitive damages award.
But Braden can keep the other $1.56 million he was awarded for Lockheed’s actions in including him in the 2012 RIF at its Moorestown, N.J., facility, the court said. The jury found Lockheed guilty of age bias and awarded Braden $520,000 for lost wages and benefits. That was automatically doubled under federal law because the jury also found the violation was willful, the court said.
The jury additionally awarded Braden $520,000 for the emotional distress he said he experienced as a result of the age bias. That award, though “large,” didn’t exceed the acceptable range for emotional distress damages for job discrimination, Judge Renee Marie Bumb said.
The court declined Lockheed’s call to overturn the jury’s finding of age discrimination. Braden presented sufficient evidence to support his allegations, and it was up to the jury to decide if he showed that a younger worker he said was treated more favorably was similarly situated to him for purposes of federal and state anti-bias laws. It also was the jury’s role to decide whether Braden showed the company’s explanation that he was let go because by 2012 the market had slowed for the type of work he was doing was merely a cover for age bias, the court said.
In ruling on a post-verdict motion for judgment as a matter of law, a court may not reweigh evidence or reassess the jury’s determinations of witness credibility, Bumb said.
The jury returned both verdicts Jan. 26 following a four-day trial. Braden had sued Lockheed in July 2014, asserting claims under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act and its New Jersey counterpart. He had been with the company for 28 years at the time of his termination.
The new trial on punitive damages is scheduled for Feb. 6, one of Braden’s attorneys, Stephen G. Console, told Bloomberg Law Dec. 19. He is a partner with Console Mattiacci Law LLC in Philadelphia.
Lockheed’s attorneys didn’t respond Dec. 19 to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.
Rahul Munshi, Laura C. Mattiacci, Susan M. Saint-Antoine, and Emily R. Derstine Friesen of Console Mattiacci in Philadelphia and Moorestown also represented Braden. Anjanette Cabrera in New York, Tamika R. Nordstrom in Atlanta, Rodrick D. Holmes in Memphis, and Michael Gaston-Bell in Kansas City, Mo., all of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP, and Kannon K. Shanmugam of Williams & Connolly LLP in Washington represented Lockheed.
The case is Braden v. Lockheed Martin Corp. , 2017 BL 452147, D.N.J., No. 14-4215, retrial of punitive damages ordered 12/18/17 .
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