A jury awarded a former executive assistant at Temple University $850,000 in damages in a federal age-discrimination lawsuit last week.
In the suit, first filed in 2016, Ruth Briggs, 63, alleged that the day before her 57th birthday, her supervisor in the computer and information sciences department told her that “in China, they put women out to pasture at your age.” (The supervisor, Jie Wu, chairs the department; he has worked as a professor at Temple since 2009.)
Briggs, a 13-year employee at Temple, alleged that after that comment, she was disciplined in writing, and over the next two years came to believe that Wu was trying to push her out of the department because of her age. She said in the suit that human resources staffers at Temple were unhelpful and that she was disciplined frequently and disproportionately over minor infractions. Eventually, she resigned in 2014 after Temple threatened to fire her — over what the school said was unsatisfactory work and what Briggs said was her continued complaints about Wu.
In its initial response to the suit, Temple denied Wu had made such comments or tried to fire Briggs. The school argued that Briggs had resigned because of poor job performance — missing meetings and arriving late to work — and that disciplinary actions taken against her were appropriate.
A jury in U.S. civil court ruled in favor of Briggs on Thursday, her lawyer, Laura Mattiacci, said. It found that Briggs had been forced to resign because of her complaints about age discrimination and that she was “subjected to a hostile work environment.”
Briggs was awarded $350,000 in damages for pain, suffering, and inconvenience; $250,000 in back pay; and $250,000 because Temple had acted with “willful indifference,” the jury found. Mattiacci said Briggs would also file for reimbursement of her attorney’s fees.
“We’re extremely pleased with the verdict,” Mattiacci said. “She persevered and justice was done.”
Ray Betzner, a Temple spokesperson, wrote in an email that the university was “reviewing the verdict in the case and considering our options.”