A Superior Court jury awarded $1.95 million Tuesday to a former Hughes Aircraft Co. employee fired after he accused the company of overcharging the government on defense contracts.
After five days of deliberations, the jury found that Hughes discriminated against Bobby Coffey, 55, of Woodland Hills, because of his age and upheld his claims that Hughes charged the government for employee time not performed on various contracts.
"Mr. Coffey and I are extremely gratified," his lawyer, Melanie Lomax, said after the award was announced.
"The part he was happiest about was the false (overcharges). The jury has sent Hughes a clear message not only on the honesty of billing charges, but on how they treat their longtime employees."
Hughes spokesman Bill Herrman said Hughes was "disappointed" by the verdict and plans to appeal. A Hughes lawyer also attacked Coffey's work record.
Coffey was first hired by Hughes in 1969 and was assigned as a programs control administrator charged with keeping tabs on the costs of government defense work.
He was fired in December, 1989, allegedly for falsifying a time card, indicating that he had worked eight hours a day on two days in which he worked only half days.
Coffey sued Hughes, charging that his time card offense was an oversight, that he should not have been fired for it and that the real reason he was dismissed was because he pointed out allegedly fraudulent practices Hughes engaged in by overcharging the government on defense contracts.
Coffey sought $8.5 million in punitive damages and lost wages.
The jury awarded him $127,477 in general damages, $75,000 for his pain and suffering and $1.75 million in punitive damages.
"Hughes played games on U.S. defense contracts" by charging employee hours against projects they never worked on, Lomax said in closing arguments in the case last week.
She said in one instance, Hughes charged the government $48,000 for materials that the company was able to obtain for $2,000, and on a secret project, charged $90,000 in employee time when actual charges totaled only $35,000.
Krischer denied Coffey's allegations that Hughes overcharged the government, saying some of the work employees did was for secret projects that they did not know about.