A federal jury has awarded a total of $51.5m to a former Lockheed Martin employee who claimed he lost his job to age discrimination.

Robert Braden was laid off in 2012, aged 66 years old. His layoff brought to an end a 29-year career as a Project Engineer. He was the only one in a team of six to be laid off. The rest of the team were at least a decade younger than him (aged 35, 38, 42, 42 and 52). 

His layoff was part of a wider reduction in force exercise. A total of 308 Lockheed Martin workers were laid off. Out of the 110 Project Engineers, five were laid off (including Braden) and all five were aged over 50.

Braden brought a claim, arguing that the layoffs were intended to target older workers and "replace them with younger workers.”  

Wilful ageism

Braden referenced multiple acts which he alleged evidenced age discrimination. He said that had been paid less than younger workers with similar positions. He also claimed to have heard conversations suggesting it was “preferable” to give older workers low evaluations and, thus, lower pay because they “have nowhere else to go". 

Braden argued that his age was "a motivating and determinative factor in his termination".

Lockheed Martin argued that it terminated Braden for "legitimate, nondiscriminatory business reasons". It said Braden's performance "was consistently below average" and cited "the lack of impending work for his skill set". 

However, the eight-person jury was not persuaded and found in favour of Braden.

Compensation: $50m punitive damages, $1.5m additional damages

Recently, a Missouri woman was awarded $20m after brining an age discrimination claim, but Rob Braden's award is far greater. It is one of the largest ever for an individual claimant in an age-discrimination claim.

The jury took just a little over 3 hours to award Braden $50 million in punitive damages after a four-day trial in federal court, along with $520,000 in loss of earnings (doubled after the Court found Lockheed Martin's actions to be wilful) and a further $520,000 for pain and suffering.

For more on age discrimination in the US, go to our international pages.