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Lawrence Livermore National Lab (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

LIVERMORE -- An Alameda County jury has sided with the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the second phase of a two-part wrongful termination trial over age discrimination claims tied to the lab's mass 2008 layoffs.

As victory was claimed by the five lead plaintiffs in the first trial phase last spring, the future of the case regarding another 125 remaining plaintiffs will be unclear until the parties go back before a judge in February, attorneys said Tuesday.

In 2009, 130 former lab employees filed suit alleging that higher-paid senior employees were unfairly targeted in May 2008 when the lab ran by UC Berkeley and Bechtel Corp. laid off 430 employees in the midst of the recession and a shift away from nuclear weapons development. The average age of the laid-off employees was 54.

The case went forward with five lead plaintiffs, and the judge split the trial into two phases, each addressing a different theory in support of the wrongful termination claim.

An Alameda County jury in May ruled in favor of four of the five lead plaintiffs based on a breach-of-contract argument. Those plaintiffs were awarded $2.7 million for lost wages.

A different jury on Dec. 20 ruled in favor of the lab, unanimously rejecting the plaintiffs' claim that a policy allowing managers to handpick who was let go led to unintentional discrimination against employees 40 and older.

Before both trials, the judge had dismissed intentional-discrimination claims.

"What the lab is grateful for in the (latest) verdict is the jury and the judge found neither intentional nor unintentional age discrimination in this case as to these five plaintiffs, and that's huge," said Patricia Gillette, of the Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe law firm. "The second trial has implications for the other 125 plaintiffs, and the judge will decide what implications."

The plaintiffs' attorney, Gary Gwilliam, expects the plaintiffs will prevail overall, once the final judgment is entered

"We won the case, but we only won as to one theory," Gwilliam said. "There is no doubt there is a judgment in our favor; the question is, where do we go from here?"

The case returns to court in February.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.