Engineers’ Union Files Charges Against Boeing, Alleges Age Discrimination

Jul 24, 2014

The union representing Boeing engineers has filed age-discrimination charges against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Washington State Human Rights Commission.

The move comes in the wake of a series of announcements by Boeing that said the company is shifting thousands of engineering jobs to other states.

In April, Chicago-based Boeing said it will move 1,000 customer-support engineering jobs out of Washington state to southern California. Last December, the company said it will move research-and-technology positions to other states including Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina, potentially eliminating as many as 1,200 jobs in Washington state.

Boeing “implemented a scheme to engage in age discrimination on a breathtaking scale,” said Ray Goforth, executive director of the union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, in a statement.

Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman, called the charges from SPEEA “baseless” and said the company is disappointed by the union’s action.

“Boeing does not discriminate against its employees on any basis,” Alder said in an emailed statement. “Diversifying our engineering workforce reflects changes in our business and is not related to the age of our employees.”

Retention Rankings

Goforth said Boeing secretly changed the criteria it uses for so-called retention rankings, which are used to decide the order in which employees will be laid off. He said the union first began to hear about the changes from whistleblowers within the company, but that Boeing executives denied making any changes.

Then SPEEA used employee information provided by the company to the union to analyze the retention rankings and determined that the company had changed the criteria, making older workers more vulnerable to layoffs, Goforth said in an interview.

“They’re laying off older employees — 10, 20, 30 years of experience here — moving their job and then hiring younger employees with less experience,” Goforth said. “This is precisely what the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was designed to prevent.”

SPEEA represents more than 21,000 Boeing employees in Washington state — more than a quarter of the company’s workforce in the state.

EEOC

The EEOC will investigate the charges and decide if they have merit. 

Michael Harper, a professor of law at Boston University, says if that happens, the commission may well bring a lawsuit against Boeing. 

"It involves a lot of people, it's a prominent corporation, it has visibility," Harper said. "And cases with visibility help, I think, the general enforcement of the act."

Still, Harper says proving age discrimination can be difficult. It falls under a different federal statute than the law covering race or sex discrimination, and he says because of that, it can be harder to win such cases.