Come Fly with Me: Third Circuit Rules that Boeing Did Not Wrongfully Terminate a Former Employee

boeingThomas Vaughan Jr. worked at Boeing’s Ridley Park plant for 18 years, most recently as a composite fabricator. But in 2013, he began having issues. That year, he was briefly terminated following an altercation with a supervisor. His termination was revoked, however, after the Union negotiated a settlement, allowing him to return to work in October 2013, under a “Last Chance” Agreement.

But Vaughan continued to have problems, even though he was in a new role. Upon returning to work, Vaughan required two certifications to begin to work at his new position. Before he got certification, he was assigned to a temporary sweeping position. Vaughan was disgruntled that the training was not happening fast enough, and that those responsible for the training were acting “dismissively” toward him. Nevertheless, he eventually got the certifications and began his job attaching fuel bags.

Boeing continued to see performance issues with Vaughan. First he left foreign object debris (FOD) on an aircraft during his break. FOD includes anything that is foreign to an aircraft—from tools to stray scraps. Because of the damage this could do to an aircraft, Boeing requires that all FOD be removed. The next issue occurred when Vaughan’s new supervisor noticed that he had left his tools out on a cart overnight, rather than store them in his locker. Following this incident, Vaughan’s manager found that Vaughan had left paper backing on an aircraft. Two days after that, one of Vaughan’s coworkers found that he had used a sander without putting his employee marker (called a “chit”) in the space to indicate that he had it.

Following this series of incidents, Vaughan was put on a three-day suspension from his position. Upon his return in January 2014, Vaughan continued to have issues—from once again failing to use his “chit,” to taking unauthorized overtime. Boeing, at the recommendation of Vaughan’s manager, made the decision to terminate Vaughan permanently, citing in the termination memo the most recent incidents involving the “chit” and the overtime.

After returning to Boeing the first time, Vaughan felt that he was not being given the chance to succeed. Boeing, for its part, believed that it had given Vaughan multiple chances and opportunities for training to try to keep him on.

The case seems fairly open and shut: employee breaks company policy on multiple occasions and is fired following several warnings. The problem with this case comes down to race. Thomas Vaughan was the only African American worker on his team. While he did not deny that he had committed these infractions, he also claimed that other white workers made equally significant mistakes, but were not terminated.

Boeing denies that they treated Vaughan any differently than his white coworkers. And as of May 22, 2018, the Third Circuit Court agrees. A three-judge panel ruled that Boeing had sufficient cause for firing Mr. Vaughan and their action was not racially motivated. The Third Circuit’s ruling confirmed a decision by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granting summary judgment to Boeing.

Choosing to fire an employee is never an easy decision. It is an emotional situation for both parties. But sometimes it needs to be done. Boeing made sure to document the reasons for Vaughan’s termination, as well as work with him to avoid a termination at an earlier date. These are important factors to keep in mind if you are considering terminating an employee.