Earlier this month in New Jersey, a federal jury found that Lockheed Martin had discriminated against one of its employees because of his age and awarded that employee $51.5 million. Reports about the case indicate that the jury heard evidence that Lockheed Martin had a practice of laying off older workers while at the same time recruiting and hiring younger workers.
The plaintiff in this case, Robert Braden, was the oldest of six employees who reported to the same manager and he was the one chosen for layoff. The company gave Braden no reason for his lay off and did not use any objective criteria to make the layoff decision. Braden was 66 years old at the time of the layoff. The other four employees that the company chose for layoff from Braden’s facility were all older than 50.
The jury awarded Braden $520,000 in back pay which was doubled under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The jury also awarded Braden $520,000 for emotional distress under New Jersey state law. Also under New Jersey state law, the jury decided to make Lockheed Martin pay Braden $50 million in punitive damages.
The jury sent a strong message to Lockheed Martin that its discriminatory conduct was unacceptable. Lockheed Martin’s net earnings in 2016 alone were $3.8 billion and, thus, a punitive damages award that was not in the tens of millions of dollars probably would not have had much of an impact on the company. However, if this case had happened in Maine, the jury’s verdict would have been reduced to $1.02 million because Maine, unlike New Jersey, has caps on the amount of damages a company has to pay workers they discriminate against. The difference in the deterrence of a $51.5 million verdict as opposed to a $1.02 million verdict is obvious. Thankfully, this case did not happen in Maine otherwise Lockheed Martin probably would have gotten off with a slap on the wrist.