Westinghouse accused of age bias EEOC says local unit illegally laid off 400

April 03, 1993|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s division in Linthicum, the state's largest manufacturing employer, has been accused of TTC age discrimination by the federal government in the layoffs of nearly 400 workers two years ago.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, responsible for enforcing the rights of U.S. workers, said in a lawsuit that it had found "reasonable cause" that the employees were illegally laid off during cutbacks in February 1991.

"The older workers were highly qualified, generally more qualified than the younger workers which Westinghouse retained," the EEOC's Baltimore office said in a statement.

The EEOC suit alleges the layoffs at the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group, a unit of the giant defense contractor and manufacturing conglomerate, targeted long-term workers who were older than 40.

Included in the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, are 97 former Westinghouse workers who had filed a private class-action suit against the company Jan. 28, also charging age discrimination.

In that suit, the former workers had charged that, as part of a "pattern and practice of discrimination against older employees, Westinghouse intentionally selected the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for termination based on their age, their higher salaries, their pension eligibility, or some combination of these factors."

In the January suit, the plaintiffs alleged the division had:

* Retained and, in some instances, promoted less-qualified younger employees.

* Hired or attempted to hire younger employees to perform work the same as that performed by the older workers who were laid off or involuntarily retired.

* Transferred younger employees to departments in which older employees were about to be, or were previously, laid off, involuntarily retired or demoted.

The EEOC announced its legal action late yesterday, and Westinghouse officials were not available for comment. At the time of the earlier suit, however, a company spokesman said it was against policy to comment on matters in litigation.

The Linthicum division, which has been hurt by the shrinking military budget, has laid off about 4,500 people over the past two years.

Both suits stem from the division's layoff of 1,200 workers following the Pentagon's cancellation of the Navy's A-12 attack aircraft program. The group had been under contract to supply radar units and an infrared system for the jets.

Gerald S. Kiel, an EEOC attorney, said he expected the court to consolidate the two actions into one suit.

David Norken, another EEOC attorney, explained that the suit seeks to have the workers reinstated. It also seeks double back pay and other financial losses, plus interest.

Most of the workers were engineers or other professionals. Many had 20 to 30 years of service with Westinghouse, either at its complex in Linthicum or its facilities at Hunt Valley.

Mr. Norken said the federal agency acted after it was unable to resolve the conflict during negotiations with Westinghouse.

Mr. Kiel explained that the 97 workers filed their own suit Jan. 28 because they feared the two-year statute of limitations would expire.

The EEOC said its suit filed yesterday was valid because it began negotiations with the company to resolve the case before the two-year expiration date.

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