Ex-Boeing worker wants Supreme Court hearing - East Valley Tribune: News

Ex-Boeing worker wants Supreme Court hearing

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Posted: Saturday, February 20, 2010 9:47 pm | Updated: 3:40 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A former employee at Boeing's Mesa helicopter operations is taking her campaign against the company all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A former employee at Boeing's Mesa helicopter operations is taking her campaign against the company all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

She's hoping for a hearing by the court on charges she was discriminated against by the company because of her race, wrongly denied disability benefits when she was injured on the job and eventually forced to resign because she could no longer perform the work due to her injuries.

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Michelle London-Marable, a resident of east Mesa, officially asked the nation's highest court to review her case this week. But it's a long shot. Her attorney, John D. Parker II, said the court agrees to review only about 1 percent of the cases it's asked to consider.

"The chances of them hearing this case are very slim," he conceded.

Still, London-Marable said it's worth the effort.

"I wouldn't do it if I wasn't disabled," she said. "It is a fairness issue. I have not been given my civil rights as a citizen of the United States."

Not many people have agreed during the black woman's long quest for satisfaction. She was three times denied workers' compensation claims. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which handles discrimination complaints, decided not to pursue her case. A U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco have ruled in Boeing's favor.

All that's left is one final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Wednesday Parker filed for a Writ of Certiorari with the high court, asking that it review the lower-court rulings. In a two-step process, the high court would have to agree first to review the case and then remand it back to the district court for a trial, Parker said.

If a trial is ordered, it could finally force Boeing to negotiate a settlement, the attorney said.

Boeing officials declined to comment in detail, providing only a statement that "Boeing supports the unanimous decision by the 9th Circuit, upholding earlier rulings regarding the complaints raised by Ms. London-Marable and appealed over the past five years."

The company's Mesa plant, which assembles Apache combat helicopters, has been the target of other discrimination complaints by employees. Most recently, the company agreed early this month to pay $380,000 to settle sex-discrimination charges by three female employees who alleged they were harassed because of gender.

London-Marable was hired by Hughes Helicopters in Los Angeles in 1982 as an administrative assistant and came to Arizona when Hughes moved its operations to Mesa the following year. Her plans were to take advantage of education opportunities offered by the company to study for a college degree, which she eventually earned from Western International University, and advance to more responsible duties.

Her career path didn't work out as she hoped. In 1995, following a post-Cold War downsizing, she was transferred to another department where she was required to perform repetitive data-entry work and lift heavy boxes of paper records.

She suffered her first injury from the heavy lifting in late 1996, but her managers continued to require her to perform physical activities such as twisting, bending and lifting, she said.

In 1999 she joined a class action lawsuit against Boeing, which by then had acquired the Mesa plant, filed by minority employees alleging racial discrimination. From that point on, the hostility of Boeing managers intensified, she said.

The physical activities she was forced to perform caused her to be injured several more times in the following years, eventually requiring two major surgeries, she said.

The situation boiled over on Nov. 20, 2002, when London-Marable experienced severe pain in her leg and shortness of breath and was taken to the Boeing medical department. Following a confrontation between the Boeing physician and her husband, Fred Marable, she was transported by ambulance to Desert Samaritan Hospital.

London-Marable tried to return to work the following January, but she said she was not allowed to do so because she couldn't perform the physical work that company managers wanted.

She officially resigned on April 19, 2003.

Although her workers' compensations claims were repeatedly rejected - due to false statements by Boeing, she said - her disability claim was accepted by the Social Security Administration in July 2003, and she has been receiving Social Security disability payments since then. She has not been able to work elsewhere because of her injuries, and she had to declare personal bankruptcy, she said.

Upset by what she viewed as unfair treatment by her employer, she asked the EEOC to investigate her complaints. In January 2004 the federal agency decided not to pursue legal action against the aerospace company. But she was told she could pursue her own complaint through the courts, which she did.

In June 2008, her case was dismissed by District Court Judge Mary Murguia, and that decision was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court in November.

The repeated denials have reinforced London-Marable's belief that she hasn't gotten a fair shake.

"Since I am an African-American female, I don't have the same entitlements as white people," she said.

But Parker said he's not making a discrimination argument in his legal case. Instead he's asserting that Boeing was in breach of its employment agreement with London-Marable because corporate policy required company managers to find light duty work for employees who were injured on the job to aid their recovery.

"That was not done in her case," he said, adding "there is nothing in the record that refutes her version of the facts."

Fighting the case all the way to the Supreme Court has been costly for London-Marable and her husband, who works as a Mesa bus driver.

"We have made do," she said, when asked how they have managed financially.

Fred Marable said his greatest motivation is to inform the public about how Boeing treats its employees.

"This company may be a giant, but they are a wolf in sheep's clothing," he said. "We want to make Boeing come to the table and do right by her."

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