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Lawsuit Alleges Violations by Shuttle Contractor

September 24, 1987|WILLIAM C. REMPEL | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An aerospace engineer and one of her former staff members have accused Unisys Corp., a major space shuttle subcontractor, of forcing them from their jobs at the Johnson Space Center in Houston after they reported quality control violations and management irregularities to their superiors.

The allegations are contained in a $5.2-million lawsuit prepared by attorneys for Sylvia Robins, a Unisys engineering supervisor before she was demoted and then resigned late last year, and Ria Solomon, a technician fired by Unisys.

Both in their complaint, which is expected to be filed today in a Houston federal court, and in interviews, the women said they told their superiors about falsified time cards, failures to test shuttle flight software and violations of security regulations in the handling of classified shuttle data in the last year.

Previous Litigation

The latest complaint expands on litigation previously filed by Robins that also charged Unisys with violations of the Equal Pay Act. The former Unisys supervisor turned over employee lists showing the names of male supervisors denoted with plus signs and female supervisors marked by minus signs. Robins said she discovered the marks on the list, which were given to her in her capacity as a manager, meant the men were hired at higher pay grades.

Both Robins and Solomon claim they were subjected to harassment and retaliation for reporting alleged irregularities. Both women said they also have been targets of anonymous calls, threatening letters and vandalism.

A Unisys spokesman declined comment on the allegations but he denied that Unisys was guilty of any wrongdoing. "We'll deal with these claims in the proper forum, in court," said William Beckham, vice president of communications and marketing for Unisys in McLean, Va.

Other Allegations

Since her demotion, Robins has moved to the Rockwell Corp., prime contractor for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the shuttle project. Solomon remains unemployed.

The Robins-Solomon complaint, which also names Rockwell and four Unisys management employees as defendants, says that among the "abuses and illegalities" they reported were:

--Falsified time sheets on which Unisys employees submitted claims for overtime that was not worked. Employees who filed those claims called it their "Halloween bonus," Solomon said. When Solomon was told to submit an overtime claim, she refused, explaining in a handwritten note on her time card, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, that she would not submit a claim for work she had not done.

--The failure of Unisys to verify the safety of flight software before it was submitted to Rockwell and NASA as completed work.

--The "official listing" by Unisys of a nonexistent employee. The shuttle project telephone directory of December, 1986, lists "Phil L. Elbo" at a Unisys phone number. According to Robins and Solomon, Elbo was a blue-gray stuffed elephant. The litigation gave no explanation for the listing of a fictitious employee.

--Security breaches in the storage and handling of classified shuttle data tapes. The women said they reported that "red shuttle data tapes" used on secret Defense Department shuttle missions are stored in a low-security warehouse and are sometimes in the care of employees who have been accused of drug use on the job.

--Alleged padding of contract bids by Unisys and the employment of unqualified personnel.

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