AOL must pay $1.5 million to fired Netscape executive

A Santa Clara County jury Tuesday ordered America Online to pay about $1.5 million to a former top executive with its Netscape Communications division, after finding the company damaged his reputation when it fired him three years ago.

Lawyers for Ronald J. Arnold, an ex-Netscape vice president, will return to Superior Court today to ask the jury to slap AOL with punitive damages, raising the possibility the verdict could multiply by millions of dollars.

The trial stems from a defamation lawsuit filed by Arnold, 49, former national head of information systems for Netscape in Mountain View and previously director of a similar operation in Europe. Arnold contended in his suit that he was wrongfully accused of doctoring an administrative assistant's pay records, and then smeared after being fired in 1999, a year after AOL acquired Netscape.

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