Last updated January 11, 2008 8:35 p.m. PT
Boeing discrimination case back in court
By JOSEPH TARTAKOFF
Almost 10 years after a group of African-American employees at The Boeing Co. filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the company had discriminated against them because of their race, the case was back in court Friday.
At issue was whether a U.S. District Court judge had erred in throwing out, without a trial, claims that Boeing had compensated African-American and white employees differently for similar work. The judge did allow a jury to determine whether the company had been fair in its distribution of job promotions. In December 2005, the jury ruled in Boeing's favor.
The hearing Friday before a panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges was the latest development in a saga made more complex because of its duration.
In 1998, a group of African-American employees sued Boeing, alleging that the company had systematically discriminated against them because of their race. A year later, Boeing settled the case for $15 million, but the settlement was thrown out in 2003 by a panel of appellate judges who determined that the settlement treated class members differently and the attorney fees were excessive.
So, in 2004, the case went to trial again. But, court filings show, the judge decided to throw out additional claims that Boeing had discriminated in its pay, in part because those claims were based on events that had taken place more than four years before, violating the statute of limitations. A jury then determined that Boeing had not racially discriminated in its promotion policies.
On Friday, Craig Spiegel, a partner at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and an attorney for the remaining plaintiffs, argued that the plaintiffs had alleged all the way back to 1998 that Boeing had discriminated in its pay and therefore the court should not have thrown out those claims.
He also said that in the 1999 settlement, Boeing acknowledged the plaintiffs were alleging that Boeing had discriminated in its compensation policies.
"Even if the initial complaints did not allege compensation discrimination, by settling Boeing acknowledged that," he said. Moreover, in court documents, plaintiffs argue that the years during which the 1999 settlement was on appeal should not count under the statute of limitations.
But, in his arguments, Michael Reiss, an attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine who represented Boeing, asked whether "there are any places in the record where an individual ever claims compensation discrimination?"
There are only a few plaintiffs left in the case, and Reiss added that the "notion these four or five individuals are here today seeking to pursue a pre-2000 claim to compensation discrimination is absurd." He asked the court to uphold the district court's decision.
Although the three judges peppered Spiegel with questions, they remained mostly silent during Reiss' arguments.
P-I reporter Joseph Tartakoff can be reached at 206-448-8293 or firstname.lastname@example.org