The Boeing Co. has asked a federal judge to force former workers who alleged in a lawsuit that the company's planes were unsafe to produce all their communications with journalists, particularly recent contacts with Arabic television station Al-Jazeera.
The filing this week in U.S. District Court in Wichita is the latest in a lawsuit filed in 2005 by three former workers who claimed Boeing defrauded the U.S. government. The whistle-blower lawsuit, which was filed under the False Claims Act, says the planes contain "bogus parts" and should be grounded.
Boeing said in its court filing that after the Federal Aviation Administration's chief technical adviser rejected the lawsuit's allegations in a deposition, the workers contacted Al-Jazeera about a story aimed at discrediting the U.S. government.
Boyd Byers, an attorney for Boeing, did not immediately return a message for comment.
Never miss a local story.
The planemaker argued in its court filing that the workers have failed to comply with a 2008 court order requiring them and anyone acting on their behalf to produce all their communications with journalists. It now asks the court to enforce that order and make the workers pay for the costs of this latest filing.
William Skepnek, a Lawrence attorney representing the workers, did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
The federal lawsuit alleges Los Angeles-based supplier Ducommun falsified records and supplied defective and non-conforming parts that were later assembled into Boeing aircraft. The employees, all former members of an internal audit team, claim Boeing retaliated against them for voicing concern about their findings and filing the original 2002 case.
The plaintiffs are former Boeing workers Taylor Smith, Jeannine Prewitt and James Ailes.
Boeing and Ducommun contend their allegations are baseless.
A nearly identical case was filed under seal in 2002 through a different law firm. That initial case was voluntarily dismissed and the original complaint was unsealed when the new case was refiled in 2005. The court dismissed in 2006 much of their lawsuit because the workers were not detailed enough in their allegations, then reinstated those counts later after the workers amended their complaint to add more specifics.
The Justice Department has declined to intervene, and investigations in 2002 by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Transportation into the first complaint found no cause for alarm.
The case has languished in the federal courts as depositions and other discovery grind on. It has yet to be scheduled for trial.
Boeing contends in its filing this week that the plaintiffs have sought to create "media hype" for their case since the time it was filed. The firm specifically cites in its motion a 2006 story in the Washington Post, a 2005 series in Mother Jones and a 2007 episode of "Dan Rather Reports."
The FAA chief technical adviser, Robert Eastin, recently found that there is no evidence to support their claims that affected airplanes are not safe and should be grounded, according to Boeing's new motion.
Boeing contends that instead of retreating from their claims, the workers appear to be again turning to the media "in an attempt to attack the government, notwithstanding that the government is the real party in interest on whose behalf this lawsuit is ostensibly brought."
The company told the court that its media relations department had been recently contacted by Al-Jazeera. The insinuation in Al-Jazeera's questioning was that Eastin's conclusions were not independently reached, Boeing said.
Boeing also contended the workers have apparently provided consultant reports to the media, noting that Al-Jazeera also cited in its e-mails the opinions of several industry experts.
The company contends the workers have not produced as ordered their communications with journalists, aside from a handful of e-mails and consultant reports.
Boeing books orders for 30 737s — Boeing said it has received orders for 30 737s in the past week.
Boeing's weekly order update did not say who is buying the planes.
Boeing customers have ordered 382 737s this year, out 422 orders for all commercial planes.
The 737 can carry from 110 to more than 200 people, depending on the version of the plane and how it is set up. It is typically used on domestic flights, and competes with the Airbus A320.