Jury Returns Record $10M Verdict in Age Bias Case

June 19, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A jury has returned a $10 million punitive damages verdict in an age discrimination suit against Avaya Inc., a Basking Ridge, New Jersey, telecommunications firm.

The settlement is said to set a record in New Jersey for age bias claims.

Plaintiff Nicholas Saffos alleged that his termination as business relationship manager in Avaya’s real estate department was part of a purge of older workers carried out by a new department head, M. Foster Werner Jr., a defendant in the case along with Avaya, according to the New Jersey Law Journal. Werner allegedly fired eight people in the department, all but one of whom was replaced by a younger person.

The case was helped along by the fact that Werner, who was also fired and replaced by someone younger shortly after the firings, brought his own age-discrimination claim against Avaya. Avaya paid Werner to resolve his claim, the news report said.

The punitive damages award came a day after the jury awarded $743,000 in compensatory damages to Saffos. The compensatory damages, awarded against both Avaya and Werner, includes $325,500 in back pay, $167,500 in front pay, and $250,000 for emotional distress.

Steven Adler, of Cole Schotz Meisel Forman & Leonard in Hackensack, N.J., who often represents employers, told the New Jersey Law Journal that Avaya may be able to raise a substantive due process argument based on the need for a reasonable relationship between compensatory and punitive damages.