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Raiders age discrimination suit heads to jury

An attorney for two former Oakland Raiders scouts told jurors Tuesday that they should award the scouts a total of more than $3 million in damages, alleging that the football team engaged in age discrimination when it fired them three years ago.

In her closing argument in an Alameda County Superior Court lawsuit filed against the Raiders by veteran scouts Bruce Kebric and Jon Kingdon, attorney Barbara Lawless asserted that the team’s general manager, Reggie McKenzie, fired them on May 1, 2012, because McKenzie and owner Mark Davis wanted to get rid of older people and bring in younger people.

Davis took over as the Raiders’ owner in October 2011 after the death of his father Al Davis, the team’s longtime leader. He hired McKenzie as general manager on Jan. 6, 2012. At the time the veteran scouts were fired, Kingdon was 59 and Kebric was 68.

Kebric is a member of the scouting hall of fame. Both men had more than 30 years of experience as scouts.

Referring to McKenzie’s dismissal of Kingdon and Kebric, Lawless said:

“He threw them out on the street and replaced them with less experienced younger people he didn’t know well. … Age was the motivating factor in firing them.”

Lawless cited comments she said McKenzie and former head coach Dennis Allen made favoring younger employees. Allen, who was 39 when he was hired on Jan. 24, 2012, was the youngest head coach in the National Football League at the time.

But the Raiders’ lawyer, David Reis, said:

“This case is not about age discrimination because no one made decisions because of age.”

Reis said McKenzie was simply “a new general manager who brought in his own people” and said he replaced Kingdon and Kebric because he didn’t think they were good leaders and communicators. Reis told jurors:

“Age discrimination is wrong but it didn’t happen here. … It wasn’t old guys or young guys, it was Reggie’s guys.”

Reis said when McKenzie testified in the case he vehemently denied that age was a factor in his decision to fire Kingdon and Kebric.

In fact, Reis said McKenzie retained many older people in the scouting department and other departments and the average age of full-time employees in the scouting department declined by only a fraction, from 42.66 to 42.06, after Kingdon and Kebric were fired. Reis denied that McKenzie and Davis made any direct comments.

Lawless said Kebric should be awarded $480,000 for lost wages since the time of his firing and more than $1 million in additional earnings he would have had if he could have worked until age 73. She said Kingdon, because he is younger, should get about $430,000 for lost wages and more than $1.5 million in lost future earnings if he could have continued until age 73.

Lawless said both men should also be awarded punitive damages and damages for emotional distress but didn’t specify an amount. Lawless and Reis both cited the longtime futility of the Raiders, who haven’t had a winning team since 2002. Lawless said:

“McKenzie and Davis got together and got rid of older people in the scouting department but it didn’t do any good.”

At the beginning of the trial, Lawless called Contra Costa Times sports writer Steve Corkran as a witness and he said the Raiders have only had a record of 11 wins and 37 losses under McKenzie’s leadership, a much worse record than the record of 16 wins and 16 losses in the two years before he was hired.

Reis conceded that the Raiders’ record isn’t better under McKenzie’s leadership but claimed that the team’s scouting has improved because many young players who were scouted after Kingdon and Kebric were fired were selected to play in the NFL’s most recent All-Star Game.

Reis also told jurors that it doesn’t matter if they think the Raiders made a mistake in firing Kingdon and Kebric as long as they find the reason for their firing wasn’t discriminatory:

“Our job isn’t to second guess the Raiders’ judgment.”

Jurors will begin deliberating on Wednesday morning.

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