Jury claps back at age insults, awards millions

If we’re lucky, we’ll all grow old, hopefully with our dignity intact. That may have been on the minds of jurors who just awarded a record-setting sum to a California woman who, after 36 years on the job, was replaced by a much younger man.

The possible tipping point: The insulting language the woman’s boss used to describe her.

It took the Los Angeles Superior Court jury four days to weigh the evidence in a lawsuit filed by Codie Rael, age 58, who sued for age-based harassment. The jury awarded her $3 million in lost wages.

But it also concluded Rael’s employer, Danaher Corp., and its subsidiaries acted with malice, oppression and fraud against her, which triggered punitive damages. After just an hour of additional deliberation, the jury awarded another $28 million in punitive damages.

Rael had worked for Danaher—a global conglomerate that sits at No. 144 on the Fortune 500—and two of its subsidies since she was 22 years old. She testified she worked in various California plant locations and held such positions as a materials buyer and planner during her final two years of employment.

The trouble began when her supervisor began making remarks about her age. He said she was “outdated,” “part of the old culture” and a “dumb female.” He added, “We need younger workers here.” Rael claimed the supervisor was pressuring her to quit so he could hire younger, less expensive workers.

And she did quit, citing job stress. Then, after discovering that her replacement was a 20-year-old man, she sued.

Cases like these almost always end in settlements, but Danaher decided to fight. Bad move, as the jury believed Rael’s version of events.

Final note: Unsurprisingly, Danaher says it plans to request a reduction in the damage award and will likely appeal if the court doesn’t reduce the award significantly. For now, this is the largest ever punitive damage award against a Southern California employer.