Friday, July 26, 2013

Worker Says Aircraft Parts Maker Faked Tests: Courthouse News Service


Courthouse News Service
LOS ANGELES (CN) - Curtiss-Wright fired a longtime machine operator for refusing to lie about its practice of falsifying safety tests for commercial and military aircraft parts, the former employee claims in court.

Martin Caraballo sued Metal Improvement Company (MIC) and its parent company, Curtiss-Wright Corporation, in Federal Court.

Caraballo claims he was fired after he told an MIC attorney that if he were asked, he would tell the truth in a whistleblower lawsuit about the company's practice and encouragement of skirting required safety tests for commercial and military aircraft parts.

Caraballo worked for the defendants for 35 years, he says in his wrongful-termination lawsuit.

MIC's primary business is "shot peening" parts, which "involves shooting round metal balls at a designated part to reduce imperfections in the part and strengthen the metal of the part so that it does not fail under stress. In order to achieve this process, MIC's customers designate the type of shot that is to be used on a particular part, and the desired intensity at which the shot must strike the metal surface of the part. A customers' designation of the shot and intensity is called a specification," Caraballo says in the complaint.

Customers can designate certain parts as "Frozen Planning," which means "the type of shot and the intensity called for in the specification must be followed. In addition, many of the Frozen Planning specifications further designate a part as 'Flight Safety' and/or 'War Critical.' Flight Safety means the particular part is critical to the flight safety of the aircraft where it will ultimately be installed. War Critical means the aircraft has been designated by the government to be used in war," according to the complaint.

MIC uses an "Almen Test Strip" to provide its customers with confirmation that the proper shot and intensity were used. Federal Aviation Administration inspectors employed by MIC are supposed to be physically present during the shot peening process to determine that it is done correctly, Caraballo says in the complaint.

Caraballo's claims that he and other machine operators were told to fake compliance with customers' specifications by bending test strips instead of putting the strips through the proper process. Documents were falsified to suggest that inspectors had overseen the process, Caraballo claims.

"Management at MIC made clear that superficially appearing to demonstrate compliance was more important than actual compliance," Caraballo says in the complaint.

Caraballo claims that on July 9, 2012, a manager told him that his deposition had been requested for former employee Anthony Jackson's wrongful termination-whistleblower lawsuit. Caraballo was told to meet with MIC's attorney, Johnnie James, before being deposed, he says.

"One of the main issues of the Jackson whistleblower lawsuit was Jackson's claim that MIC employees wrongfully bent Test Strips to make it appear a part had been processed in accordance with the specifications," Caraballo says in the complaint. "Mr. James asked plaintiff if he bent Test Strips. Plaintiff acknowledged that yes, he and virtually every machine operator at MIC had been required by MIC to bend Test Strips.

"Mr. James asked plaintiff other questions about bending the Test Strips and stated that it would not be good for MIC if plaintiff testified at the upcoming deposition that Test Strips were bent. Mr. James indicated that plaintiff should reconsider what he was saying and testify differently. Plaintiff stated that he would testify truthfully, and if asked, admit that he and other MIC machine operators were required to bend Test Strips to make it appear they had accomplished the shot-peening process and met the specified intensity.

"After telling Mr. James that he would testify truthfully, plaintiff was told that he was suspended pending further investigation."

Less than two weeks later, in a meeting with several MIC managers, Caraballo claims he was asked again how he would testify in the lawsuit.

"He was instructed by MIC's management to reconsider his intended testimony. When plaintiff stated that he would not lie, but would testify honestly and if asked would admit that he and other employees, including management employees, had been required to bend Test Strips to falsify compliance, he was informed by MIC's management that his employment was terminated," according to the complaint.

Caraballo wants his job back, and punitive damages for wrongful firing and pain and suffering.

He is represented by Jonathan D. Miller with Nye, Peabody, Stirling, Hale & Miller, of Santa Barbara.