In one of the largest settlements in history of an age discrimination case, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Livermore National Laboratory has agreed to pay $37.25 million to 129 workers who were laid off during a workforce restructuring in 2008.
The plaintiffs were long-standing Lab administrative employees with an average age of 54 who were laid off in 2008, seven months after a consortium led by Bechtel, a private management company, won a contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to manage the Lab. Other consortium members are the University of California, Babcock and Wilcox, Washington Division of URS Corporation, and Battelle.
Judge Robert Freedman of the Alameda County Superior Court ruled in 2012 the case could proceed to trial after finding the plaintiffs had presented sufficient statistical evidence that the layoff had a disproportionate impact on employees over the age of 40. In 2013, the claims of five “test plaintiffs” were litigated in two separate jury trials. The first trial, alleging breach of the plaintiffs’ employment contracts, resulted in a verdict for the plaintiffs and an award of $2.73 million in damages. The second trial alleged age discrimination and this time the Laboratory prevailed. Both verdicts were appealed.
Judge Freedman encouraged the parties to participate in mediation, which after several months led to the settlement. Under the terms of the settlement, the Lab does not admit guilt.
One plaintiff did not settle her case, which now will move forward independently..
Plaintiff Elaine Andrews, who had worked at the Lab for 30 years, told the Livermore Patch that many of the laid-off workers were too young to retire and were unable to find jobs during the Great Recession.
“Many lost their homes and suffered physical and mental issues from the stress of losing their livelihood,” said Andrews.
She said the workers were given no reason for the layoffs. They were told they had 30 minutes to collect their belongings and then they were escorted by armed guards to the exit center, where their security badges were confiscated.
During the course of the litigation, counsel for the plaintiffs complained that counsel for the Lab was trying to drag out the litigation as long as possible so that plaintiffs would drop out. The strategy may have been effective. Andrews said the settlement was less than ideal but the plaintiffs felt too much time had elapsed and that it was time to move on. The plaintiffs initially sought more $64 million.
The largest age discrimination settlement is believed to be that of several class action lawsuits brought in the early 1990s by a 165 television writers who alleged the networks, studios and talent agencies refused to employ writers aged 40 and above in a misguided attempt to capture younger audiences. Under the settlement, 17 major networks and production studios, along with seven talent agencies, paid $70 million to thousands of writers to resolve 19 claims.
Of course, the Livermore settlement involves a single employer and only 129 plaintiffs.