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A federal judge ended a 10-year lawsuit over the closing of McDonnell Douglas’ plant in Tulsa, Okla., on Thursday, approving an agreement ordering the company to pay former employees $8.1 million in back wages. “This is a fair, reasonable and adequate settlement,” U.S. Chief District Judge Sven Erik Holmes said while acknowledging the objections of some of the more than 1,000 workers who filed the lawsuit. Under the agreement, which the company and plaintiffs reached earlier this summer, former workers of the company’s military aircraft plant will receive about $5,800 each after attorneys fees are taken out. “I don’t think anything about it is fair,” said Wiley Sears, 59, who operated heavy machinery in the plant for 25 years. “The main thing now is we have to live with it.” St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas, which merged with Chicago-based Boeing Co. in 1997, closed its Tulsa military aircraft plant in 1994. Workers sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act the same year. Holmes ruled in 2001 that McDonnell Douglas was liable for violating the law by closing the plant to save about $24.7 million in benefits covered by the act. Workers agreed last year to settle pension and health care benefits for $36 million. But the issue of back pay remained unresolved after the company appealed Holmes’ ruling including them in workers’ claims. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled 2-1 on May 21 that the act kept the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit from receiving back pay. Settlement discussions followed. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the settlement should be approved because the workers would receive a monetary award despite losing the appeal. “We would not likely prevail on the issue of back pay if we took the case forward,” attorney Joseph Farris said. Tom Wack, attorney for McDonnell Douglas, said the case could go on for another five years if the case was not settled. “If everyone in the class is not entirely happy with this settlement, I can tell you the company isn’t either,” Wack said. Holmes said he would settle attorneys fees on Sept. 9. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are asking for $1.62 million in fees plus costs and expenses of about $170,000. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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