A federal judge in Maryland will allow a whistleblower complaint to go forward against the former government services unit of AECOM and defense contractor DynCorp International LLC—both now owned by contractor Amentum—which alleges human trafficking and violations of the federal False Claims Act on two now completed U.S. military contracts in Kuwait that were held by a joint venture of the firms.
U.S. District Court Judge Paula Xinis in Baltimore ruled March 9 that there is enough evidence to support allegations by 29 Kuwaiti translators that the former parent firms of Global Linguist Solutions (GLS), a joint venture of AECOM National Security Programs Inc. and DynCorp,, knew about and were directly involved in the mistreatment of the linguists hired by the JV, including that they were being threatened with deportation and had their passports confiscated.
The defendant had asked the court to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the facts are insufficient to hold it liable.
That business had been part of AECOM’s government services group until January 2020, when it was spun off in a $2.4-billion sale to private equity owners and began doing business as Amentum. DynCorp was acquired by Amentum in November 2020.
A spokesman for AECOM said the firm "is not involved in or liable for this lawsuit." An Amentum spokesperson told ENR it has no comment on the ruling.
Corporate Control, or Separation?
At issue is whether GLS parent firms had enough control over its day-to-day operations at the time, or whether there was enough corporate separation to shield the parents from liability for the joint venture entity’s actions under the False Claims Act.
GLS was awarded two contracts in 2007 and 2011 by the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command to provide translation, interpretation and intelligence gathering during Operation Iraq Freedom. The contracts totaled about $14.3 billion, the ruling says.
The linguists claim they witnessed overbilling in the 2007 contract and false claims by GLS that it complied with Kuwaiti immigration and labor laws, which they say should have made the firm ineligible for the second contract. The plaintiffs also claim the company’s abuse of labor laws resulted in the arrest of some linguists who were forced to live in overcrowded and unsanitary housing, sign false confessions and were expelled from Kuwait.
The complaint alleges that GLS parent firms “exercised such total control and domination" over it that the unit was merely an “instrumentality in obtaining revenue from military contracts in the Middle East” for the parent corporations, Judge Xinis said.
“These allegations alone are sufficient to allow the claim to proceed to discovery,” the judge said. “The Court finds it improper to dismiss AECOM without further factual development.”
The GLS parent firms also selected its management board, controlled the terms of its members’ employment, set rates and benefits paid to employees; maintained the exclusive right to appoint the joint venture’s executives and played an active role in its “crisis management,” the complaint contends.
AECOM Sought Dismissal
The plaintiffs allege that the parent firms knew about the mistreatment of the linguists in Kuwait, submitting a March 2013 email from the GLS president to AECOM and DynCorp executives that he witnessed “suffering among the linguists,” and reported that the translators' passports had been confiscated, subjecting them to potential arrest if they attempted to leave Kuwait. He added that should GLS be unable to fulfill its contract, there would be financial loss to the joint venture, and to the parent firms.
“The Court considers the agreements used to form GLS as well as those that govern its operation to be integral to the complaint;” Judge Xinis' ruling said. The complaint also claimed that the parent firms created GLS to compete for U.S. military contracts and retained exclusive power to bind that firm in any contracts it was awarded.
AECOM disputed the degree to which it controlled GLS, the judge noted. The firm argued that the claim made under a federal anti-trafficking law “fails to make plausible AECOM’s knowledge sufficient to confer liability under the statute.”
But Xinis said in her ruling that the law “holds not just primary offenders accountable but also anybody who knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which has engaged in forced labor."
She added: “Considering the degree of control that [the plaintiffs] allege AECOM had over GLS, and the consistent level of communication between AECOM, DynCorp, GLS and others, the allegations are enough at this stage to support the inference that AECOM knew the linguists’ passports had been confiscated, and [that they] were being threatened with deportation.” Xinis also said AECOM knew they were working in violation of Kuwaiti law and was aware of their living conditions.
The judge said the plaintiffs’ claim for relief is “plausible on its face” and “will proceed.”