Appeal: $2.9M+ age bias award for fired scientist, boss

Chemical maker PQ Corp. must pay ex- R&D professionals Bonnie Marcus and Roman Wypart at least $2.9 million ($1.9 million in lost wages, $150,000 for "emotional distress" and more than $800,000 in liquidated damages due to willful violations, plus possible future interest, fees and costs) for firing them in violation of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, says a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. PQ had no comment.

According to the decision: PQ (formerly Philadelphia Quartz Co., founded in 1831 and run for most of its history by Philadelphia's Elkinton family) was bought by JPMorgan in 2005 and turned over to CEO Mike Boyce, who fired 30 employees three months after his arrival in a cost-cutting "reduction in force."

Among those laid off were Marcus, a manager in the former PQ Research and Development Department in Conshohocken, and Wypart, a scientist who reported to her. They won a 2009 verdict on their complaint under federal and state law, though Judge John P. Fullam cut millions from the original "distress" part of the award.  

PQ (now owned by Carlyle Group) appealed, objecting to the court's handling of the trial. The appeals court upheld the judgment, noting that, while "the defendant had a right to hire and fire its employees whenever (it) wanted to as long as (PQ) didn't do it because of age," the trial produced "considerable evidence" pointing to "discrimination". For example:

- PQ's stated reasons for firing the workers "changed over time";

- For employees with Marcus' and Wypart's job titles, "all of those fifty-five and older were fired in the RIF while all of those under 55 were retained."

The workers were represented by lawyers Scott Goldshaw and Katie Eyer of Salmanson Goldshaw PC, Philadelphia. Buchanan Ingersoll represented PQ. Appeal is Third District 11-2009, original case is USDC E. Pa. 2-07-cv-02075