The opinion indicates that Mr. Balderrama, a Hispanic male who at the time he filed suit in 2014 was 58 years old, was employed in 2004 by Lockheed Martin and by 2007 worked in a division involving with selling a helicopter. The first five years of his employment, the evidence showed, he was evaluated as a “higher performer,” but in 2009 through 2011 his performance was only rated as “acceptable.” In 2012 he was part of a team that secured a major sales contract with Denmark and was credited with making a tangible contribution to the sale. However, his supervisor gave him a poor review for 2012 placing him in the lowest 10 percent of his peers due to failure to follow management direction and communicate with his team.
Mr. Balderrama met with his supervisor and protested the evaluation, accusing his supervisor of measuring him by a “different yardstick.” He appealed the evaluation to the HR department, but it was only after the appeal was denied that he talked with the Director of HR and claimed discrimination based on age and national origin. The EEO department of the company found no grounds for that claim. In 2013, Lockheed Martin announced a Reduction in Force (RIF) due to having lost government funding. After analysis of its employees, Lockheed Martin found that Mr. Balderrama rated lowest in performance in his group and was terminated.
He filed suit, claiming he was fired due to discrimination based on national origin, and that his termination was in retaliation for having claimed discrimination. The trial Court found there was insufficient evidence to support the claim of discrimination, but let a jury decide the retaliation claim. The jury found for Balderrama and awarded $830,000. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, holding there was insufficient evidence to support submitting the retaliation claim to the jury.
The Court noted that Balderrama did not initially claim discrimination, and there was no adverse action against his employment until he was terminated. It found that the RIF was a real business necessity, and Balderrama has no evidence to show that the RIF was a pretext to cover up discrimination. This illustrates how the courts require evidence sufficient to support a claim of retaliation for alleging discrimination.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.