Friday, December 28, 2012

Ex-Boeing manager sues over termination

By Patrick Danner
Published 4:47 pm, Friday, December 28, 2012

A former Boeing Co. senior quality manager in San Antonio has sued the company, alleging she was terminated for refusing to allow military cargo planes to return to service because of safety concerns.

Cynthia A. Whittenburg, who now lives in Houston, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages from Boeing. The suit was filed last month in Bexar County Circuit Court.

A Boeing spokeswoman didn't respond to requests for comment Friday. The Chicago-based manufacturer last week filed a response in the case, generally denying the allegations.

Boeing's Port San Antonio facility handles aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul work.

Whittenburg was a senior quality manager on Boeing's C-17 cargo plane program from July 2010 to last December at Port San Antonio, where she said she oversaw 87 people.

According to Whittenburg, the San Antonio operation had a “good old boy network” that was more concerned about meeting delivery dates for repaired aircraft than following policies meant to ensure aircraft were safe to fly.

Late deliveries, she said, would hurt Boeing's profits.

Whittenburg, 53, alleges in her suit that she was directed by a superior on “multiple occasions” to void or modify documentation so that C-17 aircraft could be returned to military operations.

But she wouldn't go along, she said.

“Bottom line, I refused to let an aircraft leave” if it was unsafe to fly, Whittenburg said in a phone interview. “An aircraft couldn't leave without my signature.”

The suit alleges the “release of aircraft would expose the pilots and the general public to extreme hazards in the event the C17 were to crash.”

Texas is an employment-at-will state, which means employers don't need a reason to terminate an employee. But San Antonio attorney Frank Herrera Jr., who represents Whittenburg, said an employee can sue if they are terminated for refusing to participate in an illegal act.

Altering or voiding failing test results of “non-airworthy aircraft” is illegal, the suit states.

Whittenburg did not notify law enforcement authorities about the alleged acts.

“I alerted … management, I alerted my ethics adviser (at Boeing) and I alerted human resources,” she said.

She recalled the conversation with the ethics adviser.

“He's the one who said, 'Cynthia, you'll never get through the San Antonio system,'” she said. “He said, 'I recommend you go see a lawyer and sue Boeing because they will fire you. They will terminate you because you're rocking the boat.'”

In one instance, Whittenburg said she refused to release an aircraft that had some “rework and repair” done to its structural beam support. The proper engineering group, she said, wasn't consulted to determine if it was “structurally warranted.”

Whittenburg said she has 27 years in the aerospace industry in various quality-assurance and safety roles. Prior to joining Boeing, she said she worked with NASA contractor United Space Alliance in Houston.


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