Nation digest 3/21

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Court could set limits for age-biased cases

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court confronted the job safety fears of America's graying workers on Wednesday in a case that asks whether older employees have the same legal clout as minorities in discrimination claims.

The justices, who have lifetime appointments, are being urged by companies to make age bias suits tougher to prove. If the court does so, employers would have more leeway in cutting jobs.

The case turns on whether a 1967 law that bars on-the-job age bias allows lawsuits on grounds that an employer's action had a disproportionate impact on older workers. Justices have already settled that impact suits are allowed under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on a worker's gender, religion or race.

Andersen seeks speedy trial on indictment

HOUSTON -- Arthur Andersen pleaded innocent Wednesday to criminal charges that it obstructed justice by shredding tons of documents and deleting computer files related to Enron.

The hearing was the auditing firm's first since a federal indictment was unsealed last week.

U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon, who ultimately will hear the case, set a trial date of May 6 and said she hoped to complete the trial in three weeks.

Rusty Hardin, an Andersen attorney, had said the company wanted a swift jury trial to challenge what he called flimsy government evidence.

New blood pressure pill better at halting strokes

ATLANTA -- A large head-to-head comparison of two widely used blood pressure pills found one dramatically superior in preventing strokes and diabetes, even though they are equal at reducing hypertension.

The winner was Merck's Cozaar, which was pitted against the older and widely used beta blocker drug known generically as atenolol. The study was paid for by Merck.

Typically, doctors are satisfied simply to get patients' high blood pressure down and feel it does not matter much which kind of drug accomplishes the goal. Researchers say the new study is the first to show that how blood pressure is lowered can be important, too.

The study found that patients on Cozaar were 25 percent less likely to suffer strokes and 25 percent less likely to develop diabetes.

Police: Victim, suspect had 7-year relationship

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- One of two bodies found in the car trunk of a Michigan man who was pulled over by police in Utah was that of his longtime girlfriend, authorities said.

Patrick L. Daniel, 31, was arraigned Tuesday in Richfield, Utah, on two counts of murder in the deaths of Robert Bilton Jr., 35, and Becky Britton, 31, police said.

Britton's last known address was an Ann Arbor residence she once shared with Daniel.

Daniel's attorney, John Hummel, said he couldn't discuss the case.

Daniel and Britton moved around the country between 1994 and 2001. She was last seen alive last November, shortly before Daniel moved a freezer into the condominium he was sharing with another girlfriend, police said.

-- From wire reports

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