Taxpayers & Older Workers Lose Boeing/Sprint Case

This is Justice?

When a lawsuit ties up taxpayer dollars and federal court resources for almost a decade, it is fair to say that it is a poor reflection on the court system when the case is suddenly dismissed, especially because a judge’s ire is piqued.

Such was the case this week when U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren of Kansas dismissed the claims of 26 plaintiffs in an age discrimination lawsuit filed in 2005 against Boeing Co. and Spirit AeroSystems.

A case that is allowed to linger on a court docket for nine years typically involves a staggering number of filings by both sides, time spent deciding countless issues, endless hours spent in hearings.  This time and expense involves not only the highly-paid federal court  judge but the many minions in the court clerk’s office, court reporters, security guards, facilities fees and God only knows what and who else.

And it is almost never in the plaintiffs’ interest to delay; it is always the interests of the defendants, in this case two major corporations that employ armies of defense counsel for the sole purpose of avoiding liability in civil lawsuits.

How can a judge possibly justify an extreme action like dismissing the  claims  of the 26 plaintiffs with prejudice – which means the plaintiffs cannot refile the case – after all this time?  Don’t U.S. taxpayers deserve better than this? The federal court system is asking the U.S. Congress to approve a budget of $6.735 billion in taxpayer money in 2015.

When Boeing sold its commercial aircraft operations in Wichita to the parent company of Spirit AeroSystems in 2005, 90 former Boeing workers claimed they lost their jobs because of their age.

The lawsuit was initially filed as a class action in December 2005, with Melgren granting summary judgment in the companies’ favor on the class-action claims in 2010. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in 2012. The following year, an amended complaint was filed on behalf of 87 workers alleging individual counts of age discrimination. It was whittled down to 26 plaintiffs as some former workers settled out of court, some were dismissed by the court as “inactive,” dropped out or died.  Yes, died.

 It is entirely foreseeable that plaintiffs will die in an age discrimination case that is allowed to linger for almost a decade. There is an old axiom that is particularly true in age discrimination cases – Justice delayed is justice denied.

Melgren, an appointee of former President George Bush in 2008, in a scathing decision,  said he was dismissing the remaining claims as a sanction for the plaintiffs supposed refusal to obey a court order to give their tax returns to the Boeing and Sprint.

You might ask yourself why the plaintiffs tax returns are even an issue in this case? How does this relate to whether they lost their jobs in 2005 because of age discrimination?  Besides, Plaintiffs’ Attorney James Gore said the plaintiffs’ signed authorizations for the release of their tax return information, which should have been enough to comply with the court order.

The judge also chided Gore for choosing “not to even attend” a hearing on the companies’ request to summarily rule in their favor. “This inaction exemplifies a pattern of nonparticipation that leads the Court to find that a lesser sanction would not deter further noncompliance,” Melgren wrote.

Gore told the Associated Press that he notified the court that he wouldn’t be able to attend weeks prior to the hearing and on the day of the hearing. He said he was dealing with the death of the grandmother who had raised him. He said the other plaintiffs’ attorney on the case, Lawrence Williamson, was suffering from an ongoing, debilitating illness that kept him from traveling.  He said he will appeal Melgren’s decision and ask Melgren to reconsider.

Imagine the demands on plaintiffs’ counsel when a court permits an army of defense counsel employed by major corporations to delay, delay, delay …  How can anyone consider this to be justice?

The decision came in the case of Apsley et al v. Boeing Company, Civil Case No. 05-1368.Gore said he planned to appeal the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and would also ask the judge to reconsider.  Boeing/Sprint promises to fight any appeal. And so it goes.

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