Oregon Screeners Win Lawsuit on Lost Jobs

A federal jury on Wednesday awarded $664,916 to 22 former Portland International Airport screeners who said they were not given a fair chance to retain their jobs after they were federalized in 2001.

"It's a great victory for those folks," said David Park, a Portland attorney who represented the screeners. "They were qualified, dedicated, patriotic people who got screwed out of their jobs."

The verdict gave plaintiffs one year of what they would have earned had they attained jobs with the federal Transportation Security Administration, plus $10,000 for pain and suffering, Park said. Screeners who found other work within that year received less. Individual awards ranged from $14,568 to $36,347.

The plaintiffs had worked between two months and 10 years for Huntleigh USA when Congress required that all airport screeners become federal employees in a move to improve airport security following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Huntleigh had employed 337 PDX screeners before November 2001.

During the transition, the Transportation Security Administration hired NCS Pearson to test former screeners and new applicants.

Federal officials promised to give preference to experienced Huntleigh employees who passed the test but hired new screeners before testing former workers, according to the lawsuit. When Huntleigh screeners were tested, most jobs were filled, the suit said.

Twenty-three plaintiffs passed an initial computer assessment, but 20 failed a second phase that tested physical ability, Park said. Three screeners with medical conditions were put on hold, he said, "but if you happened to fall into that category, Pearson just forgot about you."

The lone plaintiff of the bunch to lose her trial had a bad shoulder at the time of the testing that would have prevented her from being hired even if the tests were fair, Park said.

Louis Santiago, a Portland attorney representing NCS Pearson, declined to comment on the case.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones ruled against the claims of about 35 screeners who never passed Pearson's first phase of testing. That group may appeal the ruling, Park said.

Three of them, including lead plaintiff Karen Sharr, later regained jobs at PDX when TSA reoffered tests in October 2003.

Most plaintiffs have found other work, but not before several of them lost their homes, were forced to move or became ill, Park said. About a dozen of the 72 original plaintiffs withdrew from the lawsuit.

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