Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Near MDV in Ageism Case in Tacoma


It is just under the bar for the million dollar verdict category, still the story on a $974,000 verdict by a Tacoma jury caught my attention for a couple of reasons. One was the use of the term "ageism" which is not all that often used. A little internet checking shows there may be a reason why the term sounded strange. One activist, Cynthia Rich, quoted in a 2003 Met Online article said:

Ageism is 40 years behind the other isms, such as sexism, racism, and lesbianism. ... Ageism is a form of sexism because it is mostly directed at old women.

Just because it has not caught up to the other 'isms, does not mean it is any less oppressive in the eyes of a professor of Women's Studies quoted in the same article, ÔÇťAgeism is part of the matrix of oppression when you talk about gender, race, class, or sexual orientation."

According to the Tacoma News Tribune, the verdict was somewhat unusual because Brian Watson was only 49 years old. The 21 year Wyeth employee did not fault the elimination of his senior account manager dealing with Safeway stores. Safeway had apparently consolidated its regional and local buying and only made such decisions at a national level. His complaint was that he wasn't able to find another position, including one for national sales manager that went to a 35 year old female with no prior experience in pharmaceutical sales, his area of expertise.

The other phrase that caught my attention was Wyeth's statement that he was not a "high potential employee" worthy of promotion. Judgments about potential it seems to me are quite often problematic. I wonder if they are really worth the effort and risk?

This was clearly not an open and shut case, after 3 weeks of trial the jury spent almost two full days in deliberation. And it is clearly not the end of the story, because as I have done before and probably should put in every story about an MDV, the quote from my Civil Procedure professor, Pappy Jones --- "Remember, ladies and gentlemen, there's no cash register at the back of the court room." But that's cold comfort for the trial lawyer and those involved in the trial during the period between verdict and the final resolution, no matter how it turns out. Wyeth brands that the plaintiff managed included Robitussin, Dimetapp and Advil. Wonder if they have a good antacid?


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