Wichita A federal judge has tossed out an age discrimination lawsuit against The Boeing Co. and Spirit AeroSystems filed in the wake of Boeing’s 2005 sale of commercial airplane operations in Kansas and Oklahoma.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ruled Wednesday in favor of the aerospace giants. He found the evidence was insufficient to establish a pattern of discrimination during the divestiture.
“Noticeably lacking from plaintiff’s proof is evidence showing that defendants had an age bias corporate culture or that a corporate policy of discrimination had been adopted. The absence of such evidence in this case proves to be fatal,” Melgren wrote.
Ninety former Boeing workers had sued in December 2005 claiming they lost their jobs because of their age. Their lawsuit was granted conditional class-action status a year later under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
Spirit AeroSystems said it hopes to now put the issue behind it. “The court validated what we have said all along — Spirit did not discriminate in its hiring process when the company was created 5 years ago. Spirit is an equal opportunity employer and we take it very seriously,” the company said in statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.
Messages left with Boeing and the workers’ attorney, Lawrence Williamson, were not immediately returned.
The aircraft makers had contended in seeking the lawsuit’s dismissal that the workers could not prove any intent to prevent older workers from attaining pension benefits. They also argued there were legitimate reasons for Spirit to not hire all the former Boeing workers.
Their lawsuit cited statements by Jeff Turner, a former Boeing manager and current CEO of Spirit acknowledging the aerospace giant had concerns about the age of its work force when it was trying to sell those facilities.
Turner told a manager within a year of the divestiture that “Boeing’s work force was getting older and that the managers needed to find ways to do something about it.” But Melgren wrote that when Turner’s comment is viewed “in the correct context, it is clear that it is benign.”
The judge said it is clear that Turner and other upper-level managers were concerned about workers’ ages because they were afraid that a large percentage of their employees would retire within a few years of each other and leave Boeing with an inexperienced work force.