Six former Investigators employed by the Passaic County Prosecutor’s prevailed in showing that they were fired due to their ages, ranging from 42 to 64. The jury awarded each lost pay, including lost pay in the future, as well as $175,000 each for punitive damages. They proved their case by using the prosecutor’s admission that he used their pension eligibility as a key factor in selecting them for termination in a reduction-in-force (RIF). The prosecutor claimed that, since they were pension-eligible, he chose to fire them because they would receive pensions and, therefore, were more able to absorb the financial blow of job loss than less-tenured (younger) employees who were not pension-eligible upon termination. One investigator testified that the prosecutor told him, “you’re old. Enjoy life, you’re eligible for retirement. You can find work.” The jury awarded the Investigators about $2.1 million in lost pay dating up to their projected retirement ages of 65 and 70 while also awarding each $175,000 in punitive damages. The trial court later awarded them over $600,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. On appeal, the court upheld the liability and lost pay verdicts by reasoning that, “by using pension-eligibility, a factor closely correlated with age, as his primary basis for terminating employees, [Prosecutor] Avigliano risked a jury finding that he was using that criterion as a pretext to rid the office of older employees.” The appellate panel reduced punitive damages to $50,000 each, largely on the basis that “punitive damage awards against public agencies must be scrutinized with great care because they are payable from public funds.” The case is Brown, et al. v. County of Passaic, et al.
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