The correct answer is: What is the jury verdict entered against Lockheed Martin?
2017 started a bit rough for aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin. In January, a Camden, NJ jury entered a verdict against the corporation for $51.5 million, composed of $520,000 in back pay, $520,000 for willfully violating the ADEA, $520,000 in emotional damages, and $50 million in punitive damages.
This breathtakingly high verdict starts with Lockheed’s 2012 small reduction in force at its Moorestown, NJ location, which involved only 5 employees. The problem: all of those employees were over the age of 50.
Enter plaintiff Robert Braden, the 66 year-old engineer included in this RIF, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (the “ADEA”), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees over 40 years old because of their age. According to Robert, Lockheed never told him why he was laid off, nor did Lockheed use any objective criteria to choose which employees to include in the RIF. Robert further alleged that, despite these lay-offs, Lockheed recruited and hired younger employees, including engineers.
Lockheed denied discriminating against Robert based on his age and argued its employment decisions were made for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons. Apparently the jury did not agree.
This verdict is an important reminder to employers to document all employment decisions in writing, including the reasons or criteria used for those decisions. While performances reviews, job descriptions, and employee standards will not guarantee employers will not be sued for discrimination, they can go a long way in preventing that business from a fate similar to Lockheed.
Morgan Easley, LLC