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Federal court in Portland rules on motions to dismiss whistleblowers’ claims against defense contractor

Today, the U.S. District Court of Maine ruled on three motions to dismiss which Alutiiq, LLC and two related companies (collectively Alutiiq) filed in response to retaliation claims that two whistleblowers filed against it. The whistleblowers, Craig Manfield and Janice Hendricks, who are represented by the Maine Employee Rights Group, have alleged that Alutiiq retaliated against them because they opposed the company’s unlawful actions. Manfield and Hendricks both worked for Alutiiq at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY) which contracted with Alutiiq to provide security services.

Manfield alleges, among other things, that Alutiiq fired him because he opposed its decision to shortchange the Navy by equipping its security officers with ammunition and equipment that did not comply with its contract with the Navy. For instance, Alutiiq equipped employees with frangible ammunition which is less lethal than the ball ammunition the contract required. As a consequence, Alutiiq provided less security for PNSY than the Navy paid it to provide. Manfield also alleges that Alutiiq terminated him because he opposed the company’s decision to shortchange its own employees by failing to pay them all of the wages they earned.

Alutiiq argued to the Court that it could legally retaliate against Manfield for opposing these illegal activities. The Court rejected Alutiiq’s argument with respect to his opposition to the company’s decision to shortchange the Navy. It held that if Manfield’s allegations are true, Alutiiq would have violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the federal False Claims Act (FCA).

However, the Court accepted Alutiiq’s argument that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) did not protect Manfield from retaliation for his opposition to Alutiiq’s decision to shortchange its own employees. The Court held that Manfield’s opposition to Alutiiq’s failure to pay its employees all of the wages they earned was not formal enough to put Alutiiq on notice that he was asserting that it violated FLSA. Consequently, it cannot be held liable for retaliation under FLSA. The Court did find, however, that Hendricks put Alutiiq on notice that it was violating her rights under FLSA. As such, the Court denied Alutiiq’s motion to dismiss her FLSA retaliation claim.

If you have experienced retaliation for opposing your employer’s unlawful actions, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn about your rights.