Supreme Court Won’t Review $1M Abbott Age Bias Award

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday it won’t review a First Circuit decision that tossed out a former Abbott Laboratories manager’s $1 million jury award after she proved she was unlawfully demoted by the medical device company due to her age.

AbbottPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

Luz González-Bermúdez, ex-manager at Abbott’s Puerto-Rico base of operations, had called on the high court to review the First Circuit’s March opinion, arguing that the decision further compounded a circuit split about how to compare workers in bias suits.

The high court’s order list released Tuesday morning, with the case being declined for review. The First Circuit stated González’s comparison of herself to two other workers, Rocio Oliver and Dennis Torres, was not “apples-to-apples” because while they did share the same title, they did not share the same duties or supervisor.

“In sum, if Oliver and Torres were apples in 2013, González was not even a fruit,” the appeals panel wrote.

Debating against that point, González said at least four other circuits — the Second, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth — look at relevancy and whether the individuals are “similarly situated in all material respects.”

The sales manager also argued that the First Circuit’s opinion was not in line with the justices’ 2000 ruling in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products Inc. , which found courts are unable to substitute their own judgment for that of a jury’s.

González’s tenure at Abbott dated to 1984, and she claims she had no issues with the company until 2010. That’s when she stated she was demoted after her position was eliminated, while two younger employees with the same job “conditions” were not demoted when their positions were cut. González then decided to sue the medical device maker and her supervisor in August 2014 under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Puerto Rico law.

González, in her 50s at the time, also alleged her nonpromotion and negative performance reviews in 2013 and 2014 were retaliation for her complaints.

In 2016, a jury awarded González $8.75 million following a six-day trial. In 2019, a Puerto Rico district court upheld that verdict but reduced the award to only $1.1 million, describing the original figure as “excessive.”

González’s attorney, Michael Kirkpatrick, said in a statement Tuesday that he and his client are disappointed that the court chose to not take the case.

“The petition presented two questions on which the federal courts of appeals have reached conflicting decisions,” Kirkpatrick said. “The court has missed an opportunity to clarify the standard for comparator evidence and the proper application of Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing.”

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