Judge Refuses to Limit Mississippi Shooting Claims

September 17, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Mississippi federal judge has given the green light for relatives of six slain Lockeed Martin employees to move forward with their damage claims beyond those available from state worker's compensation laws.

>The order by US District Judge Tom Lee in Jackson, means survivors of the factory workers shot to death by Doug Williams in July 2003 at Lockheed’s Meridian, Mississippi plant may seek millions of dollars for alleged damages rather than having to agree to much smaller state law awards, the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion Ledge reported.

>Lee ruled Williams’ violence was not directed at the victims because of their employment. “The shootings … could have been committed at anyplace, not just the workplace,” Lee wrote.

>Relatives representing the estates of slain workers have sued Lockheed Martin, saying the Fort Worth-based company knew of Williams’ violent tendencies and dislike of black people. Plaintiffs say the company created a hostile and unsafe workplace for black workers by not restraining Williams. Five of the six killed were black while Williams was white.

>In July, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled on behalf of another plaintiff, the estate of Lynette McCall, saying Lockheed Martin responded inadequately to Williams’ threats against black co-workers (See  EEOC Blasted Lockheed Martin for Racial Hostility Response ).

>Lawyer William Blair said he was pleased about the ruling on behalf of his client, Thomas Willis, who was killed in the shooting. Willis, through his estate, is seeking $5 million in compensatory damages plus unspecified punitive damages.

>Lockheed Martin had asked Lee to throw out the case, claiming Willis’ death was covered exclusively under worker’s compensation benefits, which bars other civil claims. In 2003, the Mississippi worker’s compensation lifetime disability maximum was $148,977. Under worker’s compensation, employees forgo the possibility of large awards in exchange for a smaller, but guaranteed payment.