| NEW YORK, March 26
NEW YORK, March 26 Former employees of Spirit
Aerosystems Holdings Inc, a major supplier to plane
makers Boeing and Airbus, filed charges with federal agencies on
Wednesday alleging that Spirit illegally used health care
information to target those who were costing the company most
Ten former employees claim they were selected when the
company cut 360 positions last summer because they or covered
family members had costly disabilities or medical conditions.
Spirit's health care administrators shared information with
high-level managers "so that Spirit - in its role as employer -
could identify the employees associated with the most expensive
medical claims and target them for termination," according to
one of the charges filed on Wednesday and reviewed by Reuters.
The charges, filed with the federal Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission and the Office of Civil Rights, request
class status and also allege age discrimination, disability
discrimination and violations of privacy rights, said Diane
King, a lawyer with King and Greisen, a Denver law firm that
assisted the employees.
Ken Evans, a spokesman for Spirit, said the allegations "are
filled with distortions and misstatements. Personal health
information is certainly not used to make layoff decisions."
All of the charges relate to the July 2013 layoffs, when
Spirit cut the positions at its facilities in Wichita, Kansas,
including 221 members of the Society of Professional Engineering
Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), a Seattle-based union that also
represents workers at Boeing.
Evans said SPEEA had made unfounded allegations before,
including several charges filed with the National Labor
Relations Board last year related to the job cuts that were
either withdrawn or dismissed by the board.
"While terminations are always difficult, 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," Evans said in a statement.
The job cuts were necessary in a competitive, cost-sensitive
industry, Evans said, and Spirit provided the laid-off employees
with severance and help finding new jobs.
PRESSURE TO CUT COSTS
King said circumstantial evidence supports the employees
belief that top Spirit managers misused individual employees'
health care information, but she declined to provide details.
She did not immediately provide any statistical analysis
showing that a higher proportion of those with expensive medical
costs were among those laid off.
Spirit has been under pressure to cut costs and since 2012
has set aside more than $2.2 billion in provisions for future
losses on unprofitable contracts.
The company was formed in 2005 when Boeing Co spun
off some of its facilities. It makes parts for all major Boeing
jets, including about 40 fuselages a month for Boeing's
top-selling 737 jetliner.
Spirit also makes parts for Airbus, Bombardier Inc
, Gulfstream, a unit of General Dynamics Corp
and Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp, owned by Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries and Toyota Motor Corp.
The losses at Spirit prompted it to undertake a strategic
review last year and consider sale of facilities in Oklahoma.
If the employee charges are substantiated, penalties could
include back pay, out-of-pocket health care costs, job
reinstatement or forward pay through retirement in lieu of
employment, plus attorneys fees, according to lawyers with
knowledge of these kinds of claims.
The case raises questions about possible misuse of health
information gathered by companies through self insurance or
In interviews, two former Spirit employees said they were
singled out by upper management and that their own supervisors
didn't know their performance ratings were being cut until just
before it happened.
"They tried to make it look like it was performance issues,"
said Debra, 54, a former quality analyst, whose husband is in
need of two organ transplants.
She and other employees and family members who spoke with
Reuters declined to have their full names used out of concern
for the privacy of their medical and employment information.
She said she received a "B" retention rating on Spirit's A-C
rating scale during a previous review. On July 1, her rating was
lowered to a "C," and she was told she was not eligible for
recall rights if she was laid off. Her direct supervisor wanted
to give her an "A," she said.
On July 25, she and the other employees were let go.
Scott, 51, a planner, said his rating also was downgraded to
C from B at the same time and he was also laid off. He said his
daughter requires expensive medical treatment for two
(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Martin Howell)