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Sampling of new nonfiction; Fighting age discrimination; All the Justice I Could Afford, by Eugene B. Goodman. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 256 pp. $16.95.

By Ann Hill PunnettA monthly column. Ann Hill Punnett is a free-lance writer living in the Chicago area. / August 12, 1983



Take an experienced, ambitious executive. Add in middle age. Compound with a corporate policy promoting young vice-presidents. You have the ingredients that led to Eugene Goodman's fall from the corporate ladder.

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While other executives took it lying down, Goodman decided to fight Heublein Inc., the Fortune 500 company that had let him go. He sued on the basis of age discrimination, and he won.

''All the Justice I Could Afford'' is his open-eyed, biting account of his day in court - which took six years to arrive.

He reflects from his own experiences on such nagging questions as: Is there equal justice under the law? (No.) Is the jury system viable? (Yes.) Does the case of a corporation carry undue weight in a courtroom? (Yes.) Is the legal system frail and inconsistent? (Yes.) Will flaws in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act be amended? (Maybe.)

Although Goodman ultimately won his case, he was profoundly disillusioned by emphasis of the American justice system on technicality. He was awarded $452, 400 in damages - substantially less than he felt was deserved - and the judge declined to order Goodman's reinstatement in the company. Nevertheless, if Goodman had it to do over again, he would still take his employers to court. He was heartened by the intelligent involvement of jurors: ''A jury of Americans had not let the cynics take away from me the glory of America remembered, the exultation of America redeemed.''