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Court Cuts Down Award in Raytheon Age Discrimination Case

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By Corey Licht, Esq. on May 14, 2013 3:55 PM

Middle-aged workers took a hit during the economic downturn, with many being laid off from long-held positions. Richard Miller knows all about that. In 2008, the then-53-year-old Texan was terminated from his position with Raytheon after nearly three decades of service. Miller soon filed suit against Raytheon in federal district court, claiming age discrimination under the ADEA and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA).

At trial, the jury found that Raytheon had discharged Miller because of his age and awarded him $17 million in various damages. The district court judge then cut the award down to around $2 million. Earlier in the month, the Fifth Circuit agreed that Miller had been the victim of age discrimination, but further reduced the jury award.

Miller had worked at Raytheon or a predecessor company for nearly three decades, mainly in supply chain management. In 2008, Raytheon initiated a "reduction in force" and began reviewing employees for possible layoffs. Ultimately, Miller's manager decided to include him in the layoff, claiming that Miller's position was non-essential and that other employees could take on his duties.

While Raytheon reportedly has a policy of searching, "every corner of the earth" for a new position before releasing an employee, Miller claimed that Raytheon took no such measures. At trial, Miller testified that management told him not to apply for any jobs in supply chain management, yet rejected his applications for other positions within the company.

Miller also presented evidence that two similarly-skilled workers who were younger than Miller (ages 34 and 46) had been spared from the lay off. In fact, 77% of the employees laid off in supply chain management were at least 48 years old, according to the court. As a result, the jury found that Raytheon had violated both the ADEA and TCHRA by terminating Miller with "reckless disregard for the matter of whether its conduct was prohibited" under law.

It awarded Miller $352,179 in back pay and $277,000 in lost pension benefits, both of which were doubled as ADEA liquidated damages; $1 million in mental anguish damages; and $15 million in punitive damages pursuant to TCHRA. However, the judge overseeing the case reduced the award to $1.9 million.

Both Miller and Raytheon appealed. While the Fifth Circuit court rejected Miller's claims as well as Raytheon's motion for a new trial, it agreed with Raytheon on a number of issues related to damages.

First, the court looked at the $277,000 Miller was awarded for lost pension benefits. According to the court, the benefits should be considered front pay, rather than back pay, since they vested in between the time Miller was let go in March 2008 and the trial in 2010. The classification matters because under the ADEA back pay awards are doubled if a willful violation is found. Since the damages were "for the loss of a prospective benefit," the court cut the ADEA liquidated damages.

Second, the court struck down Miller's mental anguish damages over an evidentiary issue. The award was based solely on testimony from Miller and his wife. According to the court, "the Millers' self-serving testimony" without any corroborating medical evidence was legally insufficient to warrant a mental anguish award. Miller's attorney probably won't forget the expert witnesses next time.

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