Two aerospace giants have asked a federal judge to toss out an age discrimination lawsuit filed against them in the wake of The Boeing Co.'s 2005 sale of commercial airplane operations in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Former Boeing workers have sued the Chicago-based company and Spirit Aerosystems Inc., which was formed after its Canada-based parent, Onex Corp., bought Boeing's commercial aircraft operations in Wichita and Tulsa and McAlester, Okla. They claim they lost their jobs because of their age and are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.
The companies fired back with more than 900 pages of legal motions and documents filed Friday evening in U.S. District Court in Wichita.
The companies argued against granting class-action status and asked U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren to summarily rule in their favor, claiming the workers cannot prove the companies intended to keep older workers from attaining pension benefits. The companies also argued they had legitimate reasons for Spirit not hiring all the former Boeing workers.
Attorneys for the aerospace giants contended in court documents that the new company "needed its work force to be flexible and possess the skills and attitude necessary to give the new venture the best chance of success."
Boeing and Spirit also claimed the lawsuit was not filed in time.
"I think the facts for this case will speak for themselves," said Lawrence Williamson, the workers' attorney. "I think a jury should be entitled to determine for themselves whether or not the defendants violated the law."
Attorneys for the workers last month cited depositions and internal company memos they contend show that Spirit cut older workers using a "selective rehire" process in which all Boeing employees were laid off and forced to reapply for their jobs with the new company.
One memo Onex presented to its board of directors to support the purchase noted that the Boeing work force was "older and more expensive" than the work force the new company would have. Employees ages 45 to 54 were considered the most expensive.
The workers cited statements by Jeff Turner, a former Boeing manager and current CEO of Spirit in a deposition acknowledging the aerospace giant had concerns about the age of its work force when it was trying to sell those facilities.
But in the latest filing, company attorneys argued the plaintiffs misrepresented those concerns about the aging work force, which they portrayed as a general concern that the work force would eventually retire en mass, leaving the company with too few experienced workers.
The defendants also pointed to statistics showing that Spirit hired 86 percent of Boeing's former work force, namely 9,203 of the 10,671 former Boeing workers who applied. About 85 percent of those age 40 or older were recommended for hire.
The lawsuit was filed in December 2005 by 90 former employees. More than 700 additional ex-workers have since asked to join the suit. If granted class action-status, the case could encompass about 1,100 workers.
The former workers are seeking their jobs back, along with unspecified compensatory damages and at least $1.5 billion in punitive damages.