Navy Contractor Accused of Retaliatory Firing
(CN) - A former employee of a military contractor whose malfunctioning drone struck and caused $30 million in damage to a Navy guided missile cruiser says he was fired for refusing illegal orders from a supervisor.
Brian John Collins, a retired naval officer, sued Systems Application and Technologies Inc. in Ventura County Superior Court claiming he was fired in retaliation for refusing to work off-the-books over a weekend shortly after the Nov. 16, 2013 mishap.
But in his complaint, Collins contends his supervisor's direction time to log his weekend hours worked on his time - a violation of California and federal labor laws - was only one of several examples of SA-Tech's alleged incompetence.
Collins says his main responsibility while employed by SA-Tech was to oversee the operations and maintenance of the remote controlled BQM-74E drones the Navy used as aerial targets during training off the Southern California coast.
According to Collins, shortly after he joined the project, which was then in the first or base year of an anticipated five year contract, he realized that materials needed to fulfill the SA-Tech's obligations would exceed the $3.06 million set aside for them.
"Toward the end of the base year, the materials account for the contract reached its ceiling, and no more funds could be incrementally added. The dollar value of the materials SA-Tech has already purchased, but not invoiced, became greater than funding available to reimburse SA-Tech," Collins says. "Plaintiff called a meeting with the Navy to propose diverting excess funds from SA-Tech's estimated labor costs in order to pay for the materials already purchased.
Despite the need for additional funding for materials, Collins says his supervisor, James Lewis, refused to transfer the excess funds then held in an account to cover labor costs. Collins says he was directed to wait 60 days, until the Navy picked up the first option year of the contract, and then invoice for the material purchased the previous year.
"During the base year of the contract there were also two major SA-Tech failures," Collins says. "Failure of an aerial targets maintenance inspection; and USS Chancellorsville was attacked by a BQM-74E drone operated by SA-Tech resulting in $30 million dollars worth of damages caused by SA-Tech due to not having a formal certification process for its drone operators. "
A U.S. Navy report released in June 2014 says the mishap, which punched a hole in the ship, started a fire inside it and injured two sailors, was caused by a malfunctioning control system and human error.
The Navy's redacted account of the incident says that prior to the strike, a target control team at Point Mugu, part of Naval Base Ventura County, launched the 13-foor drone directly at the Chancellorsville to test its ability to defend its crew against enemy missiles.
However, when the team sent an order to the drone to turn away from the ship, the drone ignored the command and continued toward its target. The report also faulted the personnel on board the ship, who it says, should have issued a "rogue drone" alert and ignored a recommendation by the ship's weapon system to fire on and destroy the drone, the Navy report says.
Collins says he complained to his supervisor that the BQM-74E aerial drone operators "were not fully trained and qualified, and that they posed a serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of others," but these warnings fell on deaf ears.
He further contends these failures had nothing to do with his job performance, "but were serious mistakes in management by James Lewis personally."
Shortly after these mishaps, Collins says he was directed to work over the weekend, but not to log his hours on his time card, and that when he pointed out to Lewis that this request was not only inappropriate but illegal, he was fired.
Since then, he says, SA-Tech has refused to pay him all the money it owes him.
Collins seeks general, special consequential and exemplary or punitive damages on a claim of wrongful termination and waiting time penalties.
He is represented by Alan Schimmel of Schimmel & Parks of Sherman Oaks, Calif.