Aviation

AARP Foundation lawyers join complaint against Spirit

Spirit AeroSystems faces allegations that it used age and health status as factors during a layoff process. The company disputes the claim, which was filed with a federal agency by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. Now, the AARP Foundation says its lawyers will join the union in its complaint.
Spirit AeroSystems faces allegations that it used age and health status as factors during a layoff process. The company disputes the claim, which was filed with a federal agency by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. Now, the AARP Foundation says its lawyers will join the union in its complaint. File photo

Lawyers from the AARP Foundation’s litigation arm are joining the attorneys who are representing former Spirit AeroSystems’ employees in an age discrimination complaint against the company.

The complaint was filed in March by laid-off employees with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office for Civil Rights.

The employees were represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the union representing Spirit engineers and professional and technical workers.

The case alleges that Spirit terminated hundreds of employees in 2013 because they were older and either they or a family member had a serious and costly medical condition.

The layoffs took place three weeks after Spirit switched its employee medical coverage plan to a self-insured program, SPEEA alleges.

“We don't comment on pending litigation, except to say that we will respond in due course to these allegations and are confident the company will prevail,” Spirit spokesman Ken Evans said in an e-mailed statement.

SPEEA has demonstrated a habit of making baseless allegations and legal claims, the company said at the time the claim was filed. “Personal health information is certainly not used to make employment decisions.”

Terminations are always difficult, Spirit said. But “all such decisions are based on job-related non-discriminatory criteria, and Spirit has made every effort to carry them out with respect for our employees.”

Representatives from the AARP Foundation Litigation met with laid-off employees, union officials and other legal counsel last week.

“I clearly think that the fact that AARP Foundation litigation attorneys are joining this is a clear indication how serious this is,” said SPEEA Midwest director Bob Brewer. “They don’t join every case they review.”

The addition of AARP attorneys brings another level of expertise and resources to SPEEA’s efforts, said Earl Carter, SPEEA’s Midwest vice president.

Wichita attorney Randy Rathbun, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas whose practice includes employment law, has recently become the local counsel on the complaint, Brewer said.

On July 25, 2013, Spirit laid off 360 employees, including 221 SPEEA-represented workers.

The terminations included employees who for years were rated as top performers, SPEEA said.

“The result of the change is that every dollar not paid out in medical claims is a dollar that remains in Spirit’s corporate account,” SPEEA said.

In the group that was laid off, the employees, their spouses or their children had serious medical conditions, the union said.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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