Military tech giant L3 settles charges that it discriminated against guardsmen, reservists
By AARON GREGG | The Washington Post | Published: October 31, 2018
Managers at military tech giant L3 Technologies discriminated against U.S. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members based on their military status, plaintiffs alleged in a newly unsealed class-action lawsuit. The company disputed the allegations but agreed to settle the charges for $2 million.
The suit was brought in March 2017 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington by Joseph Mitch Hall and Nathan Kay, respectively described as current and former U.S. Air National Guard members who said they were denied employment based on their military status.
Active guardsmen and reservists who are regularly "activated" for military duty become temporarily ineligible to work when they are deployed, leaving employers with unfilled positions. But the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a 1994 federal law, prohibits employers from discriminating against active Guard and Reserve members even when tours of duty become problematic for managers.
The plaintiffs said L3 "discriminated" against them in violation of state and federal law by favoring those who weren't active guardsmen.
"Because military reserve activations sometimes cause [L-3 managers] difficulty in scheduling, managers openly exhibit hostility toward employees who are current or active members of the National Guard or Reserve," they said in a legal complaint unsealed last week.
The plaintiffs and L3 have sought preliminary approval for a $2 million settlement. The settlement still needs to be reviewed by the court. As part of the deal, L3 has said it will no longer ask job applicants about their military status prior to a job offer, and it agreed to institute a new set of scheduling policies designed to accommodate active reserve members.
"We are pleased that we have reached a settlement in this matter," an L3 spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "L3 is a proud employer to more than 7,700 veterans of the U.S. military, helping them utilize their unique training and skills to meet our customers' needs."
The allegations could become particularly damaging to L3 because the company's primary customer is the Defense Department, which pays it billions of dollars every year for complex military technology and services. Contractors like L3 rely on close working relationships with U.S. officials as they bid for win new federal business, and their business depends on maintaining a reputation for diligently serving the U.S. armed forces.
And the settlement comes at an inopportune time for L3: The company is in the early stages of a high-stakes merger that would create a $33.5 billion military tech giant called L3 Harris Technologies. Executives at the two companies hope the union will give them the technical and financial clout to stand alongside leading defense firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
The company defended its hiring record and denied that it discriminated against reservists. In the release, the company said it had agreed to the settlement "for the purposes of resolving protracted and costly litigation."
"Throughout this litigation, L-3 has vigorously denied that it discriminated against reservists and maintains that it has consistently hired the most qualified applicants regardless of their military status," according to the proposed settlement.
The legal complaint filed by the plaintiffs described a recurring pattern of discrimination not only in the company's hiring efforts but also in its operations. It quoted one L-3 manager as saying the "reservists are always trying to get over and get out of work." And that the manager accused one of the reservists of being "one of those guard guys who gets to go home whenever he wants."
According to the complaint, Hall worked at a now-defunct L3 business unit called Vertex, which was contracted by the U.S. military for field support before it was divested by its parent company in July.
Hall is described as a U.S. Air Force veteran and reservist who applied for a job in early 2013. He became a pilot in the company's S4 program, the complaint states, which periodically sent pilots to provide contract aviation support for the U.S. military coalition in Afghanistan.
The complaint accuses L3 managers of delaying Hall's initial on-boarding and also holding up his return to work after a 2015 tour of duty at a time when the company suffered a persistent pilot shortage. A manager allegedly said "Mitch [Hall] is all about Mitch. . .because Mitch went on military orders when we needed him around for the holidays" when a colleague asked about Hall.
"Just because Mitch gets off orders doesn't mean he can come back to work here just because he wants to," the L3 manager said, according to the complaint.
The other plaintiff, Nathan Kay, applied for a "Basic Pilot" position with L3 in October 2014. But the complaint alleges "based on information and belief," without providing specific evidence, that managers at L3 rejected him in part because he was an Air Force reservist, and that numerous other reservists were turned away for the same reason.
L3 has received an estimated 15,000 applications for pilot positions since 2011, the complaint states, part of a massive pilot shortage that has dogged the U.S. Air Force as well as commercial airlines and government contractors. The complaint identified a sample of 200 job applicants who applied for a job at L3 and found that those who identified themselves as reservists in their job applications had "a substantially lower chance of obtaining employment" compared to others.