Translator Lawsuit Dismissed, But Whistleblower Allowed To Refile

Paul Funk will file amended complaint against MEP.

September 7, 2010, 5:15 PM

Sept. 23, 2010 — -- A federal judge in Virginia has dismissed a suit by a whistleblower who claims that his former employer, which holds a $1.4 billion contract to supply interpreters to the U.S. Army, is sending unqualified translators to Afghanistan.

Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed Paul Funk's suit against Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) for lack of specificity. However, Brinkema will allow Funk, who once oversaw the screening of Afghan linguists for MEP, to refile his suit within the next two weeks.

In a statement, the CEO of MEP applauded the judge's ruling. "We are pleased with this favorable outcome which underscores our belief that the allegations failed to state a plausible claim against the company," said Chris Taylor. "If the case is refiled through the submission of yet a third complaint, we are confident in the judicial system and look forward to a successful result.

The judge also ordered that Funk be given the opportunity to file an amended complaint no later than October 7. Kit Pierson, Funk's lead attorney, told ABC News that an amended complaint would be filed. Pierson said Funk's legal team was encouraged by the judge's ruling, noting that Brinkema said that discovery would continue in the case, and had also turned down a defense request to prevent Funk from speaking to the press.

"The Court has set a fast schedule for discovery and trial in this case," said Pierson. "We look forward to moving this case rapidly toward resolution on the merits by a jury."

Officials with MEP had told ABC News earlier this month that they expected Funk's lawsuit to be dismissed. Pierson had conceded that a dismissal was possible, and that Funk might have to refile and include greater specificity about the fraud allegations he has already made.

Funk's suit alleged that MEP, the chief supplier of interpreters into the Afghan war zone, was giving passing grades on language exams to applicants who failed to meet the Army's proficiency standards. As a result, the suit said, the Columbus, Ohio-based contractor shipped unqualified linguists overseas to be embedded with American troops.

More than one quarter of the translators working alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan failed language proficiency exams but were sent onto the battlefield anyway, claims Funk.

"I determined that someone -- and I didn't know [who] at that time -- was changing the grades from blanks or zeros to passing grades," said Funk. "Many who failed were marked as being passed."

Officials at MEP have strongly disputed Funk's allegations. Marc Peltier, MEP's chief operating officer, said in an interview with ABC News that he had "no reports from the field" of translators who could not communicate in Dari or Pashto. He said the company has received "100 percent outstanding" ratings from the Army and shared a copy of what he said was an internal company survey that showed 82 percent of its customers were satisfied with the performance of its translators.

In a letter to ABC News, CEO Taylor said the company was founded to provide U.S. troops with "the highest level of assistance possible" and "has not just lived up to its goals, but in working with our troops in the field, represents a genuine success."

Taylor also described Funk as a disgruntled ex-employee who had threatened to "wage war on the company" after he was dismissed.

Whistleblowers who file such suits stand to collect a portion of any monetary judgment, should the legal action succeed.

Funk was asked about the company's questions about his motives by the website TPM, and he dismissed them. "They tried to smear me at the very end, and I had nothing to do with any of the problems that they might have said or accused me of," he said, speaking by phone from Iraq, where he is now working for a different contractor.

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