On July 23, 2014, a federal court in Connecticut upheld a jury’s award of $3.7 million to a 61 year old executive fired after 41 years with IBM. Castellucio v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp. (D. Conn. No 3:09-cv-01145 July 23, 2014). The Court held that the jury properly awarded $2.5 million for age discrimination, and an additional $1.2 million for attorneys’ fees and costs.
The case arose when Joanne Collins-Smee became Castellucio’s supervisor, removed him from his position as Vice President of Public Sector Delivery, replaced him with a 49 year old colleague, and then stripped him of any meaningful work assignments. Collins-Smee assigned him one of IBM’s most troubled accounts, did almost nothing to help him find a new position, undermined him with clients, and repeatedly said to him “you’re old enough to retire, right?” Ultimately, when Castellucio could not find any openings in IBM, he was terminated.
Judge Thomas P. Smith, who presided over the case, was clearly offended by the way IBM treated Castellucio. This excerpt from his opinion is telling:
“Castelluccio’s countenance, gentle bearing, and heartfelt testimony suggested a man that was particularly sensitive and whose very nature invited being marginalized in the workplace by the likes of Collins-Smee. Collins-Smee did more than simply terminate Castelluccio’s employment; she shattered the very foundation of his identity as an IBMer. The jury bore witness to a man who was utterly devastated by the termination of his employment from a company at which he spent over 40 years, who was reduced to pleading for work during his final months on the bench, and who, at 61 years of age, struggled in vain to secure employment after he had been finally ousted from the company. “
So what is the take away for employers? Judges, like jurors, are people. They expect to be treated fairly, and they expect employers to treat employees fairly. No matter how poorly Castellucio may have been performing near the end of his career, an employee who devoted 41 years to his employer deserves to be treated better on his way out the door.