In 2002, M. Foster Werner Jr. was hired by AT&T to improve the reputation, performance and profitability of one of its subsidiary’s real estate departments. Werner testified in a lawsuit against the subsidiary that as director of the real estate department, he was also supposed to reduce costs. Apparently, Werner also believed he was also supposed to reduce the average age of his staff.
Nicholas Saffos was hired by AT&T in 1983 and eventually was moved to the real estate department that Werner supervised. In September 2003, at the ripe old age of 49, Saffos was fired and replaced by Carol Clark, age 35. A jury found that Werner engaged in a scheme to systematically make the staff of his department younger. After two years of Werner’s leadership, the average age of the real estate department was 10 years younger than it had been when he arrived.
The jury returned also awarded punitive damages in Saffos’ favor. An appellate court upheld the jury’s verdict and award of money damages, explaining that the evidence showed Werner’s “especially egregious conduct” in terminating older workers. Although AT&T’s “higher-ups” may have sent an “out with the old, in with the new” message to Werner when they hired him, they probably didn’t mean it literally!