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$3.33 Million Awarded in Airborne Express Age Discrimination Suit

June 13, 1996

BOSTON (AP) _ A former executive fired by Airborne Express was awarded $3.33 million by a federal judge Wednesday in an age discrimination lawsuit.

John M. Kelley, 49, of Dracut, Mass., was awarded $250,000 for emotional distress, $253,000 in back pay, and $1 million in lost future earnings by a federal jury on April 29.

Because the jury found Airborne Express had willfully discriminated, the award was automatically doubled, and Judge W. Arthur Garrity had the option of awarding even higher damages _ which he did.

Kelley was fired as regional field services manager for the Northeast region in 1993, just three months after receiving a superior performance evaluation. He said Wednesday he felt vindicated.

``The biggest thing is the vindication,″ he said. ``That some other people who were able to hear all the facts and make an educated judgment on those facts said, `Hey, they did discriminate against you.‴

David Anderson, lawyer for the Seattle-based overnight delivery service, said Airborne Express would consider an appeal. But first, he said, the company would ask Garrity to reduce the amount of the award or reverse the judgment altogether.

``We were very disappointed with the verdict of the jury. We don’t believe it was supported by the facts or the law,″ Anderson said.

Kelley had worked for Airborne Express for almost 20 years when he was abruptly fired. Kelley, who was 46 at the time, was replaced by a 39-year-old.

His boss handed him a termination letter giving several reasons for firing him, but none of those complaints had been mentioned in his previous job evaluations, according to his lawyer, David Hanrahan.

The accusations, which persisted through the trial, were devastating, Kelley said.

``I knew these people for the better part of 19, almost 20 years, and considered them to be friends of mine,″ he said.

``I had literally moved all over the country for them. ... I would take every job that they wanted me to, usually jobs that nobody else wanted. And then all of a sudden to be told you’re no longer needed, you’re no longer wanted, you’re not worth anything _ it rips your insides out,″ he said.

Kelley had won a record four of the company’s ``Top Gun″ awards for performance, along with the regional sales manager for the Northeast region.

Under Massachusetts law, age discrimination can be proved if the plaintiff is over 40 years old, was fired when he was doing his job competently, and was replaced by someone younger. He sued under both federal and state law in federal court and won on both fronts.

To justify the firing, Airborne Express alleged that Kelley had failed to follow the company’s sexual harassment policies and had improperly hired his brother-in-law, among other accusations, Hanrahan said.

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