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85 Year-Old California Prison Doctor Wins $20 Million For Age Discrimination

The chief physician and surgeon at California State Prison, Lancaster, still practicing medicine at age 85, successfully sued the California Department of Corrections (CDC) for age discrimination when CDC forced him to retire. On July 18, 2005, a Los Angeles superior court jury awarded the doctor $20 million, including $1.6 million in past and future lost earnings.

Dr. Robert Johnson refused to voluntarily retire in 2001 when he was 81. In response, his superiors complained to the state Medical Board that Johnson suffered from debilitating memory loss. But upon investigation, he was cleared of that allegation. CDC then required him to take a fitness test. At the August 2001 CDC inquest, he was asked, Dr. Johnson, you're over 80 years old, why are you still working?" It was even suggested that staff wanted to throw him a retirement party. Johnson's lawyer, Ralph Wegis, argued that CDC's conduct equated to hostile job action, amounting to age discrimination. Johnson refused to accept other job assignments.
Wegis told the jury that the malevolently instigated Medical Board investigation was itself a death knell on Johnson's career, because the record of the questions stained him as unemployable and uninsurable elsewhere. The $1.6 million wage loss award was predicated upon actuarial projections that he could continue to be able to work to age 96. Johnson's grandfather had lived to be 112. The rest of the award was for Johnson's emotional distress.

CDC spokesman Ted Slosek stated the award would be appealed as excessive. Johnson was represented by Bakersfield attorney Ralph Wegis and Los Angeles attorney Bruce MacLeod. See: Johnson v. State of California, Los Angeles County Superior Court, Case No. BC 288518.

Additional Source: Los Angeles Times.

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Related legal case

Johnson v. State of California