If you need a reason to persuade employees at every level to stop making negative comments about age, consider this: A jury recently awarded a fired employee more than $10 million in punitive damages for age discrimination after what may seem like fairly insignificant ageist talk. Although the court has said the award should be lowered, the employee will still collect more than $6 million in compensatory damages.

Recent case: Timothy Morgan worked for New York Life Insurance as a highly compensated managing partner in charge of an office. The 45-year-old earned between $500,000 and $1 million per year.

Then Morgan began hearing comments about the age of employees. He heard upper management comment that the company needs “a new generation of managerial talent,” and “we need to bring young people … into our system.” Other managers decreed that the company needed a “balance of ages.”

Then another employee, who was 64, was told that he had “done an excellent job for a long time,” especially in the past three years. However, he was then told he was “a manager from the past” and that time had passed him by.

It was against this background that Morgan found himself discharged just a few years before his pension would vest. That would have netted him an additional $125,000 per year throughout his retirement. Morgan sued.

The trial court let a jury decide whether the ageist statements were evidence of age discrimination. It sided with Morgan and ordered $6 million in compensation and another $10 million in punitive damages.

The insurer appealed and got limited relief. The trial court must now decide what a reasonable punitive damage figure would be. (Morgan v. New York Life, No. 07-4186, 6th Cir., 2009)

Leave a Comment