Sprint concludes age-discrimination lawsuit with $37,000 March of Dimes gift

A six-year-old age discrimination lawsuit against Sprint Nextel Corp., which produced a $57 million settlement, came to an official close Tuesday with a gift to the March of Dimes.

The charity will receive nearly $37,000 under an agreement by lawyers involved in the case.

The donation technically is a contribution by Sprint. It represents part of about $182,000 left over in a settlement fund after all plaintiffs were paid and lawyers’ fees and administrative expenses were covered.

The remaining funds, reflecting interest accrued on nearly $36 million that Sprint deposited in the settlement fund, will be disbursed to Sprint, primarily to pay for administrative costs.

“The parties agree that this is a reasonable resolution,” according to a court document.

A filing in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., revealed that the last of 1,586 plaintiffs — all former Sprint employees — had received all the funds due her according to a settlement reached in 2007.

The plaintiffs’ awards ranged from a low of $4,226 to a high of about $155,000, depending on the individual plaintiffs’ status in the case. The awards averaged about $20,000 per plaintiff.

The case was brought in behalf of Sprint employees, age 40 and older, who were let go between October 2001 and March 2003. The plaintiffs alleged that they were targeted for dismissal by unfair rankings that took their ages into account.

Sprint denied all allegations throughout the proceedings and agreed to the settlement so it “could continue to focus on business.”

Lawyers for the former employees, who took the cases on a contingency basis (meaning they would get paid only if they obtained a verdict or settlement for their clients), shared about $19 million in court-approved legal fees.

Only about $59,000 in the settlement fund was unclaimed by eligible plaintiffs. A handful of checks were returned as undeliverable or were not cashed within six months of issuance.

The case settlement reached in 2007 was silent about what to do with accrued interest on the settlement fund. Lawyers for both sides agreed that Sprint was entitled to the interest.

“To compromise any dispute about the ambiguity about the interest earned (on the principal in the settlement account), the parties have agreed that Sprint pay 40 percent of the remaining funds after reimbursement of the cost of administration to the March of Dimes,” the court filing said.

“This litigation is now in its sixth year. It is time to close this litigation, terminate the Qualified Settlement Fund, and distribute the remaining funds as agreed to by the parties.”