In 2009, 130 former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employees sued UC Berkeley and Bechtel Corporation, claiming that the lab selectively terminated them under the guise of a lay-off because they were older, more senior, and thus higher-paid employees. An Alameda County court decided to divide the case into two phases based on two separate theories (breach of contract and age discrimination) and to initially proceed with five example, or lead, plaintiffs representing the group.
About four year later, in May, 2013 the first case went to trial and this jury found that the lab had fired the give employees on a breach of contract theory. That jury awarded a total of more than $2.7 million to them, in amounts from $242,000 to $853,000 each, to compensate for lost pay and benefits. Last month, December, 2013, the second jury found that the lab did not engage in age discrimination when it terminated that group on a disparate impact theory – that there wasn’t a pattern of discrimination because they were older.
This result – verdicts both for and against employees in the same case – is possible because, while the first jury determined that the lab breached its employment contracts and acted unfairly in terminating the lead plaintiffs, the second jury found that lab did not terminate them because of their age. So basically both juries considered the case on two different theories and came to two different conclusions.
Both federal and California law protect employees 40 years old and older from discrimination based on their age, but the plaintiffs here faced an uphill battle trying to prove their age discrimination claims. The average age of laid-off employees was 54, and the plaintiffs tried to show how a pattern of employment decisions revealed a discriminatory practice, but the jury found the plaintiffs’ evidence unconvincing. The jury rejected the plaintiffs’ claim (aka disparate impact) that unintentional age discrimination resulted from a policy allowing managers to individually select who to terminate, because the resulting lay-offs affected the older plaintiffs disproportionately.
The case will return to court in February 2014 for the judge to determine what will happen with the remaining 125 plaintiffs’ similar claims. You can read more about the recent verdict in this Contra Costa Times news article. The case is Andrews, et. al. v. Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC., Case No. RG09453596.