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2 LA defense contractors claim firings for blowing safety whistle

Two highly-paid engineers for a Woodland Hills defense contractor were frog-marched out of their offices and fired because they refused to lie to the Navy about potentially dangerous flaws in guided missiles the company was providing for the military, they claim in a recent lawsuit. They also believe their firings were partially motivated by age discrimination.

According to the lawsuit, the two men were hired by defense contractor Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, in 2006 and 2007. Their job was to ensure that Vectron FX guided missiles requisitioned by the U.S. Navy would launch successfully and be safe for pilots. They were paid $100 and $110 per hour.

Unfortunately, the men say, the missiles contained parts made out of pure tin, which could develop dangerous “tin whiskers” and short-circuit their conductors, putting pilots at serious risk.

Shockingly, the engineers say that ATK began to pressure them in 2012 to sign documents stating there were no problems with the missiles, although it seems the Navy already suspected there were. Earlier this year, the Navy told ATK that it would not accept the faulty components they had identified.

There was a lot at stake. If ATK couldn’t use tin parts in the missiles, the company stood to lose some $60 million in revenue over the program’s life cycle.

Upon the Navy’s notification, the engineers agreed to tone down their comments but refused to retract their criticisms regarding the reliability of pure tin for use in guided missiles. As soon as it became clear they wouldn’t revise their findings, they claim, they were marched out "like criminals in front of their peers," investigated and fired.

Their lawsuit claims they “are informed and believe” they were terminated in retaliation for their unwillingness to back down on their concerns, and for refusing to sign false documents to be submitted to the Navy. Likewise, they were informed and believe that age discrimination was a factor. Indeed, they suffered a substantial reduction in pay after the wrongful firings.

After ATK delivered missiles containing pure-tin components, the plaintiffs say, the Navy fined the company $1million.

The engineers are suing for wrongful termination, retaliation and other claims, seeking compensation for lost income and benefits and other damages. They also seek punitive damages against the company.

Employers can and do retaliate against employees who refuse to go along with a profitable plan even perhaps, at the risk of human life.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Engineers Claim They Were Fired for Refusing to Sign Off on Defense Fraud," Matt Reynolds, Dec. 18, 2013

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