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Safety Whistleblower Says Boeing Fired Her

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - Boeing fired a quality control manager who told supervisors that some military cargo planes were not airworthy and refused to cover it up, the woman claims in court.

Cynthia Whittenburg sued Boeing and its vice president Vaalutasi Lelea in Bexar County Court.

Whittenburg claims that beginning in February 2011, Lelea ordered her, illegally, to void and modify acceptance documentation results so that C-17 Globemaster III aircraft could be released for use.

Whittenburg says she refused, and she was fired in December 2011.

"Any delay in the release of the aircraft would cost defendant Boeing thousands of dollars in lost revenue," the complaint states.

Whittenburg claims that she identified safety problems with at least four other planes, from May to August 2011.

"Plaintiff was advised by members of her staff that certain C-17 aircraft had failed to meet certain acceptance standards," the complaint states. "Plaintiff told her superiors regarding the failing acceptance standards of the aircraft which rendered it not airworthy. Corporate principals for defendant, Boeing, were aware, approved and ratified the instructions given to plaintiff, Whittenburg, to void and alter acceptance results and standards which rendered the aircraft not airworthy."

Whittenburg claims Boeing is not protected from firing her for refusing to commit an illegal act, even under the state's at-will employment doctrine under the Texas Supreme Court's 1985 ruling in Sabine Pilot Service Inc. v. Houck.

"Defendant, Vaalutasi Lelea ... directed plaintiff to alter and void failing test results of non-airworthy aircraft," the complaint states. "Such an act is illegal. The illegal course of action that defendant asked plaintiff to perform carried criminal penalties at all times relevant to this lawsuit."

The C-17 has been made, primarily for the U.S. Air Force, since 1991.

It can transport troops, heavy equipment and cargo to small airfields in harsh terrain and conditions anywhere in the world, according to Boeing's website.

Boeing delivered the Air Force's 218th C-17 on Sept. 14 at its Long Beach, Calif. final assembly facility.

Whittenburg seeks actual and punitive damages for wrongful termination for refusal to perform an illegal act, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is represented by Frank Herrera of San Antonio.

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