Punitive Damages Awards in NJ Hit New High in Age Discrimination Case

A Morris County jury awarded $10 million in punitive damages in an age discrimination suit, which is believed to be a record in New Jersey in an age case.  The jury also awarded $743,000 in compensatory damages, plus legal fees; the plaintiff earned $87,000 per year before his termination.

The plaintiff alleged his discharge at age 49 was part of a purge of older workers by a new department head, who allegedly fired eight people in the department, all but one of whom was replaced by a younger person (an average of 14 years younger).  Like plaintiff, most were told of problems with their performance, placed on improvement plans and discharged when they failed to meet the plans' set goals.  Ironically, shortly after the firings, the supervisor was fired at age 55 for alleged misconduct and was replaced by a 40-year-old.  The supervisor sued and the employer paid to settle the claim.

The supervisor, who was a named defendant, admitted in deposition that his own boss had a practice of firing older workers and replacing them with younger people.
Notably, the N.J. Punitive Damages Act generally limits punitive damages to no more than the greater of five times the compensatory damages or $350,000, but the cap does not apply to discrimination or whistleblower claims.  Nicholas Saffos v. Avaya, -- N.J. Super. -- (Law Div. 2008).

For additional information on this topic, please contact Douglas S. Zucker at dsz@zuckerhatfield.com or Kathryn V. Hatfield at  kvh@zuckerhatfield.com.