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$107-million judgment against giant of aerospace

Two former employees of General Dynamics Corp have been awarded a total of $107.4-million in damages after a jury found the aerospace giant liable for fraud and breach of oral contract.

William Forti and Dolores Blanton, longtime employees of the firm's Pomona missile plant, were awarded $3.7-million each in compensatory damages and $50-million in punitive damages, their attorney said.

The verdict Friday followed a three-week trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court and three days of deliberations by the jury.

A spokesman for General Dynamics in Falls Church, Va., could not be reached for comment.

Forti and Blanton said in their lawsuit that they and five other employees agreed in 1990 to start a company for General Dynamics, E-Metrics, in which they would each receive an equity interest.

E-Metrics was expected to develop neural network computer technology.

But, the lawsuit said, General Dynamics sold its entire Pomona missile business to Hughes Aircraft in 1992, including E-Metrics, and laid off Forti and Blanton without compensating them for their equity.

"General Dynamics sold it out from under them," said Don Howarth, who represented Forti and Blanton. "And we asked the jury to tell them, "By golly, you don't make somebody come in here and sue you to get their fair share.' "

Howarth said that $107.4-million was a "slap on the wrist" for General Dynamics but that he hoped the award would send a message.

"This is an entirely just verdict," he said. "The jury clearly understood the facts and law and entered a punitive verdict which took away the fruits of the fraudulent transaction that General Dynamics engaged in."