WICHITA, Kansas — A nine-year legal battle waged by former aircraft workers who claim they lost their jobs because of their age may to have come to an end after a federal judge blocked their attorney from appealing the court's dismissal of their remaining claims because the paperwork was filed too late.
The age discrimination lawsuit was sparked by Boeing's sale in 2005 of its Wichita commercial operations to the parent company of Spirit AeroSystems. The workers sued Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems alleging the new owners did not hire the older workers to prevent them from gaining pension benefits.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ruled that the attorney representing the workers had failed to file on time his notice of appeal, saying Wednesday that the court has "serious doubts about the candor and good faith" of the lawyer.
But James Gore, the plaintiffs' attorney, vowed on Thursday that this is "not the end of the case" because he planned to appeal Melgren's refusal to give them more time to file the notice of appeal over the dismissal. Gore also questioned the judge's impartiality, saying the court has taken the case to a personal level rather than addressing the legal issues raised.
The unusually harsh exchange stems from Melgren's decision in January to toss out the claims of the remaining 26 plaintiffs against Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems as a sanction for their refusal to obey a court order to give the companies their tax returns. At issue in this latest decision was whether the workers were entitled to appeal that dismissal because their attorney filed the notice of appeal too late.
In his ruling, Melgren cited the varying and inconsistent reasons given by the workers' attorney for missing a key hearing in the case. The judge also wrote he is troubled with incompatible reasons given for missing the filing deadline for the appeal, scornfully noting that it would have taken no more than five to ten minutes to prepare the notice of appeal.
"In short, the Court has lost confidence in the reliability of anything (the workers') counsel tells it," Melgren wrote.
But Gore countered that it just appears the court "wants us to go away," as opposed to really taking a look at the workers' claims.
"The firm challenged the judge's impartiality years ago and this kind of opinion, we believe, it does raise questions about his impartiality," Gore said.
But when pressed to address some the specifics in the court's ruling a day earlier, Gore acknowledged he had not yet read it.
The lawsuit was initially filed as a class action in December 2005, with Melgren ruling in the companies' favor in 2010. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with 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 as some former workers settled out of court, died or dropped out.