The federal government has agreed to pay roughly $44 million to resolve allegations that it discriminated against hundreds of elderly workers by outsourcing their employment to the private sector 16 years ago.
Lawyers representing the 761 workers claim that the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department outsourced the positions because many of the employees were over 40 and were, or would soon be, eligible for full federal retirement benefits.
They worked as flight service professionals, which are air traffic controllers that provide weather, route, and emergency assistance information to private jet pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded Lockheed Martin a contract in 2005 to administer the experts' flight servicing facilities in all states except Alaska.
About 100 experts were permitted to stay at FAA and preserve their pensions due to congressional legislation, while 1,900 others, the most of whom were over the age of 40, were transferred to Lockheed. Some of them filed a lawsuit.
25 people will get enough service credit to qualify for an air traffic controller's retirement as part of a $43.8 million settlement announced Wednesday. According to the deal, the others would be compensated for missed retirement benefits from 2016 to 2020.
"We hope this serves as a warning to federal employers and all employers that, as our workforce becomes older, businesses should be particularly cautious about making personnel decisions like layoffs based on age," said Joseph Sellers, the employees' primary attorney.
Beyond the deal, in which the FAA and the Transportation Department denied any misconduct, the FAA declined to comment.
The FAA also cited a 2016 inspector general's report, which indicated that outsourcing the job helped the agency accomplish its savings goals. Over the course of ten years, Lockheed Martin consolidated offices and reduced the number of specialists by more than half, according to the report.
When the flight support experts' employment was shifted to Lockheed, where there were no pensions, only a 401(k) savings plan, and where their service time in the government didn't matter, Kate Breen was 45 and president of the union. She left Lockheed after a year and a half and worked part-time for the Postal Service and the Transportation Security Administration before returning to the FAA.
Breen is retiring for real this week, but she estimates that her traveling around cost her $20,000 per year in retirement benefits. Some of my old coworkers suffered far worse.
"This agreement serves to alleviate some of the sufferings... "They deserve far better than what they received," she continued, "but it's still not making everyone whole."
[Courtesy: U.S. News]