Engineers Claim They Were Fired for Refusing to Sign Off on Defense Fraud


LOS ANGELES (CN) - A defense contractor fired two engineers for refusing to lie about flawed missiles that could endanger Navy pilots, the men claim in court.
     Tom Donnelly and Paul Braatz sued Alliant Techsystems in Superior Court. Alliant, a Delaware corporation based in Woodland Hills, supplies aerospace and defense products to the Pentagon. It hired Donnelly in 2007 and Braatz in 2006, to inspect missiles and determine whether they might endanger pilots or fail to launch.
     The skills required for the job, and the scarcity of qualified workers, caused Alliant to pay Donnelly $110 an hour and Braatz $100 an hour, plus benefits, they say in the complaint.
     In the summer of 2011, the engineers say, inspection of Alliant's Vectron FX missile revealed that pure tin parts in them could grow "tin whiskers," a dangerous flaw that may lead to a short circuit between the missile's two conductors.
     Both engineers claim beginning in 2012 that they were pressured to sign documents confirming "no problems" with the missiles.
     This year, after the Navy refused to allow Alliant to use the components in the missiles, the engineers say they agreed to tone down some of their earlier criticisms but refused to revise their findings on the reliability of the pure tin parts.
     "Immediately after Braatz and Donnelly made it clear that they were unwilling to make false representations to the Navy about the reliability and material composition of the AARGM missiles [Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile] being shipped to the government and/or revise the technical specification, to allow pure tin component parts, they were terminated," the lawsuit states.
     Donnelly and Braatz say they were frog-marched out of the Alliant offices without explanation "like criminals in front of their peers," and were fired in May this year, after a three-month investigation.
     "Donnelly and Braatz are informed and believe that they were terminated due to their unwillingness to disregard certain reliability and quality control issues that arose in or around the summer of 2012," the complaint states. "Donnelly and Braatz are further informed and believe they were terminated because they refused to sign false documents to submit to the Navy regarding the reliability of certain missiles. Finally, Donnelly and Braatz are informed and believe, and thereon allege, that they were discriminated due to their age which led to, inter alia, a significant reduction in their pay."
     The Navy fined Alliant $1 million for delivering the missiles with pure tin components, the engineers say.
     "Unless ATK [Alliant Techsystems] could get the Navy to agree to allow missiles to be delivered that contain the pure-tin Vectron parts, ATK would suffer a $60 million loss of revenue as a result over the production program life cycle," according to the lawsuit.
     The engineers seek lost income and benefits, attorney fees and costs, and damages and punitive damages for retaliation, wrongful firing, breach of contract, breach of faith, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conversion.
     They are represented by Karin Leavitt with Wasserman, Comden, Casselman & Esensten of Tarzana.