A major defense contractor has agreed to pay $2 million to National Guard and reserve pilots who were passed over for jobs at the company going back to 2011, under a proposed settlement filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington state.
Nathan Kay, a former pilot in the Washington Air National Guard, sought preliminary approval of the settlement in his class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.
In the lawsuit, Kay alleged that employees working in L3 Technologies' intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance operations regularly discriminated against National Guard and reserve pilots because of their ongoing service commitments, according to court documents provided to Military Times.
The lawsuit alleged that statistical evidence supported its claim that L-3 had a practice of preferring veterans without ongoing military obligations in order to not interfere with the company’s 60-day work rotations, which involved deployments to the Middle East and South Asia.
Kay, the lead plaintiff, originally filed the lawsuit in 2015, claiming L3 violated the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act — a federal law that prohibits workplace discrimination based on a person’s military service or status.
In early 2017, after his attorneys gathered 65,000 pages of documents through discovery, the court allowed Kay to pursue claims on behalf of others who were denied pilot jobs by L3.
L-3 denied liability, claiming that it never discriminated against anyone in its hiring practices. However, the company agreed to no longer ask about military status before extending job offers, to train workers on the employment rights of reservists and to make it easier for employees to schedule work around their military obligations.
“This is a favorable settlement from both parties’ perspectives," said Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer at Outten & Golden who represented Kay in the lawsuit. "We respect and recognize L3’s leadership in taking these positive steps, even though L3 had a very different view about the facts and law in this case.”
Under the proposed class action settlement, which has to be reviewed by the court, L3 would also pay $2 million to settle hiring discrimination claims.
L3 reported $9.6 billion in sales in 2017 and has roughly 31,000 employees worldwide. According to the company, it is entering into the settlement for the purposes of preventing any protracted and costly litigation.
Kay and other reservists will receive monetary payments under the settlement if they file claim forms demonstrating that they were reservists or Guardsmen who were qualified applicants for the “Senior Pilot I” position in L3’s ISR operations between 2011 and 2018.
The plaintiffs alleged that reserve and veteran pilot applicants to L-3’s ISR programs had similar professional experiences and were ideal candidates for the pilot position, due to high flight hours, combat flying experience, comfort working with the military and active security clearances.
But, after “analyzing tens of thousands of pages of application files to determine which applicants were reservists, veterans and civilians when they applied for the Senior Pilot I position, plaintiff’s counsel and expert determined that veterans were hired at a substantially greater rate than Reservists,” the court documents read.
The plaintiffs allegedly determined that if reservists and veterans had been hired at the same rate, between 20 and 35 additional reservists would have been hired from 2011 to 2018 for the Senior Pilot I position, according to the documents.
“Before I became a lawyer, I served in the Army National Guard," said Matthew Crotty of the Crotty & Son law firm in Spokane, Washington, who also represented Kay.
“Many of my troops would report to me about how hard it was to find work because of their military reserve duty,” he said. "That’s what got me into representing service members. It’s nice to play a small part in ensuring that members of the military reserves are treated properly when they apply for civilian jobs.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.