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Former Boeing plant worker prevails in discrimination case

Sat., April 4, 2009

A former worker at Spokane’s Boeing Co. manufacturing plant has prevailed in a disability discrimination case against his former employer as an appellate court reinstated a court judgment in his favor for more than $1 million.

Thomas Burchfiel, 54, worked in the company’s marketing department when it was operated by Boeing Co. before the plant was sold in late 2002 to St. Louis-based Triumph Composite Systems.

In December 2002 Burchfiel was told his job was being eliminated. He applied for another job with Triumph when it took over the company operations in early 2003. The new Triumph management had said the company would rehire about 90 percent of the previous work force, but Burchfiel wasn’t rehired.

He sued Boeing and plant manager Mary Lou Thomas in spring 2004, saying he had been diagnosed with leukemia two years before losing his job. He also argued supervisors first offered him a lesser job and then fired him out of discrimination and retaliation.

After a Spokane County Superior Court trial, a jury awarded him $1.01 million in damages. But Boeing’s attorneys asked the trial judge to reverse the judgment, arguing Burchfiel’s attorney did not establish a factual basis for the jury verdict. The judge agreed and vacated the judgment.

Burchfiel’s attorney Bob Dunn appealed the judge’s decision. The state Court of Appeals this week ruled that Burchfiel had established a factual basis for both discrimination and retaliation.

The next step is for Spokane County Superior Court to review the damages claim and decide how much is now owed, including interest from the first verdict.

Based on more than two years of interest, Dunn said he expects the final judgment to exceed $3 million.

Todd Blecher, a spokesman for Boeing, said the company would not comment on the verdict since its attorneys needed to review the court ruling. An attempt to contact Thomas, who is still plant manager of the Triumph operation, was not successful.

He also would not speculate on whether Boeing will appeal this week’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.

But Dunn said he wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.

“Boeing never goes away. They’re a tough defendant,” he said.

Staff writer Tom Sowa can be reached at or at (509) 459-5492.

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