The U.S. Department of Labor filed three complaints against Boeing Co. yesterday, charging that the Seattle aerospace company interfered with government investigators trying to monitor its compliance with federal affirmative-action laws.
The administrative lawsuits were filed against Boeing facilities in Seattle, where the company makes commercial jetliners, and also in Wichita and Mesa, Ariz., cities where Boeing makes military and space equipment. The complaints, lodged with the department's Office of Administrative Law Judges, accuse Boeing of denying access to records of how it complies with nondiscrimination laws covering federal contractors.
U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman said the department is committed to enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws and doing so requires access to company files. "Denying us that access cannot -- and will not -- be tolerated," she said in a press release.
The department is seeking an expedited review of the complaints before an administrative law judge, a move considered by government officials to be unusual. The department handles more than 4,000 compliance reviews a year, sources said, with only a handful prompting lawsuits.
The complaints in Arizona and Kansas stemmed from routine compliance reviews, the Labor Department said, while in Seattle government lawyers were attempting to investigate a charge of racial discrimination filed by Boeing employees.
Two class-action suits alleging racial discrimination in promotions and a hostile work environment at Boeing were filed last year on behalf of African American current and former Boeing employees. The company and the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in those cases agreed in January on a $15 million settlement, which is awaiting federal court approval.
In a statement announcing the complaints, the Labor Department said Boeing told employees of the department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs in April and May that it would not allow reviews planned for Mesa and Seattle to take place. Boeing officials said the review underway in Wichita would not be allowed to continue, the department charged.
In a statement, Boeing said it believes it is cooperating with the Labor Department in its reviews but acknowledged withholding data.
"To the extent that Boeing has withheld data from the agency, it has done so based on its good-faith belief that the request is either unreasonable or exceeds the scope of the (department's) authority," Boeing said.
The company said it hoped to resolve these issues "informally" with the department but was prepared to contest them if necessary.
Boeing, the country's second-largest defense contractor, received $11 billion worth of federal contracts in 1998. The company employs 230,000 workers.