According to its own financial reports from 2012, Northrop Grumman does an estimated $28 BILLION dollars in sales each year. Much of that comes from government contracting on defense items. But it turns out that $28 billion isn’t quite enough…according to a whistleblower/employee of the defense giant, the company is guilty of faking test procedures and results relating to navigational systems for use in military fighter jets, drones and submarines.
Former plant manager, Todd Donaldson, a longtime Northrop employee, alleged in court documents related to his whistleblower suit, that Northrop Grumman sold GPS systems to the military but didn’t perform certain required tests to ensure that they properly communicated with satellites.
Without those tests, he said, there was “a grave danger of erroneous navigation, leading to crashes and weapons failing to hit their targets.”
Northrop declined to comment. “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on cases or issues in litigation,” said Randy Belote, the company’s vice president of strategic communications.
Though there were no allegations in the complaint that the lack of testing resulted in any accidents that occurred because of malfunctions of Northrop’s navigational device known as the LN-100, there is some indication that in May 2011, Air Force investigators blamed the LN-100 for a crash of a Predator drone carrying a Hellfire missile in the North African Republic of Djibouti.
Investigators responsible for looking into the accident concluded that the GPS system recorded the drone’s altitude to be 400 feet higher than it actually was.
The crew, piloting the craft remotely, failed to see the problem, the investigators said, before the Predator flew into the ground. Understandably, the pilots thought it was still 400 feet in the air, when in fact it was slamming into the ground.
Donaldson filed the lawsuit under federal whistleblower laws that will allow him to partake in any settlements or judgments obtained by the government, as long as he participates in the investigation and prosecution.
The lawsuit was filed more than two years ago under seal, and so was kept secret from the public and Northrop Grumman, while government investigators looked into the allegations. It has been kept secret until last Friday, when Judge David Nuffer, of the United States District Court in Utah ordered the complaint unsealed after the government decided to decline to join in the prosecution.
The government’s decision to not decline intervention does not signal an end to the case, however, as Donaldson can proceed and the government can intervene at some future point.
Northrop’s division in Woodland Hills has sold thousands of the LN-100 navigational systems to the Pentagon and foreign customers.
The GPS system at issue is used on a myriad of military aircraft, including the F-22 Raptor and F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets, as well as the Predator and Northop’s own Global Hawk drones.
Donaldson said he worked his way up to the position of plant manager at Northop’s facility in Salt Lake City, where the navigational systems are assembled and tested.
But he was demoted, he said, after he complained that employees were faking tests of the devices.
Rather than performing the required 10-minute test, Donaldson said, employees were saving time by skipping the test and indicating in paperwork that the device had passed.
He said that he alerted Glenn Kemp, his supervisor, and Ken Bishop, a human relations executive, about the problems, but plant employees continued to “manually insert spurious data causing a ‘pass’ reading.”
That demotion also gives rise to a retaliation claim, should Donaldson continue with his lawsuit. The law protects whistleblowers from adverse employment decisions by their employers as punishment for alerting supervisors or government agencies to wrongdoing. As a separate cause of action, distinct from the whistleblower complaint, Donaldson could recover damages in the form of multiples of his owed back pay and reinstatement, along with punitive damages, even if it is found that the company didn’t do anything wrong. The mere fact that Donaldson had a good faith belief in his reports and that the company responded in a punitive manner could give rise to a settlement or judgment on that part of the complaint.
So if you’re asking yourself, what if my employer is doing something illegal?
If you have evidence or knowledge of fraudulent practices or wrongdoing on the part of your employer, contact the Law Offices of Stephen Danz & Associates at (877) 789-9707 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION today.
Stephen has more than 30 years of experience representing employees in California and around the world against their employers. He never represents companies, and is the senior partner of a statewide ’employee-only’ law firm in California.