The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) provides employees with among the most expansive protections from workplace discrimination of any legislation in the country. In certain respects, the NYCHRL requires plaintiffs to satisfy lower standards to establish claims than do other anti-discrimination laws. The NYCHRL also recognizes more protected characteristics than many other laws and enables prevailing plaintiffs to recover extensive damages. These are among the reasons that employers should take note of a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Rinsky v. Cushman & Wakefield, Inc., 2019 WL 1091046 (1st Cir. Mar. 8, 2019), which illustrates the reach of the NYCHRL beyond the borders of New York City.
About a year ago, we published an article on the firm’s LaborSphere blog about a $51.4 million jury award to a former Lockheed Martin employee who alleged age discrimination when he was let go as part of a company-wide reduction in force (“RIF”). At the time of the verdict, press coverage speculated that the multimillion dollar verdict was roughly five times more than any prior award, throughout the country, in a single-plaintiff discrimination case. Recently, U.S. District Court Judge Renee Bumb tossed out the $50 million punitive damages award because the plaintiff failed to show that Lockheed Martin’s upper management was involved in or indifferent to the discriminatory conduct.
A New Jersey jury awarded a mid-level manager $51.4 million(!) on January 26, 2017, after a short four-day trial. New Jersey juries have awarded age discrimination plaintiffs multi-million dollar verdicts in the past – but $51 million is roughly five times any prior award. Press coverage on the verdict speculates that this may be the highest jury award ever, throughout the country, in a single-plaintiff age discrimination case. While the post-trial motions and appeals are yet to be filed, there are some initial takeaways from this case.
As with most age discrimination lawsuits, this case arose out of a reduction in force (RIF). Robert Braden had been employed by Lockheed Martin, and its predecessors, for 28 years when he was let go in July of 2012 as part of a company-wide RIF. Six months later, Mr. Braden filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC based on the fact that he was the oldest of 6 people in a company unit, and the only one fired from that unit. He alleged that he was selected for the layoff at age 66 while the two other employees holding his same title, both significantly younger (ages 42 and 38), were allowed to keep their jobs. He also alleged that the company had a practice of giving younger workers better reviews and raises to keep them at the company, while older workers were given lower ratings and raises since they “had nowhere else to go.” He subsequently withdrew his claim with the EEOC so he could sue Lockheed Martin, which he did in federal court in Camden, New Jersey in 2014.