Two MBTA garage supervisors who lost their jobs in 2010 for their alleged roles in doctoring bus mileage records are suing the T for wrongful termination, seeking $1 million in damages.
They were among 13 fired by the MBTA for alleged involvement in a scheme to keep buses on the road longer between routine inspections by manipulating mileage readings.
Eight of them quietly won their jobs back last year, plus lost wages, through an arbitration ruling and a settlement with the T. That reinforced earlier protests from some employees who contended that some workers had been forced to take a fall for a problem too widespread for punishment to be meted out fairly.
Those employees all had union representation. Now, two nonunion superintendents who lacked the same grievance process and were not rehired have filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court, alleging that they were wrongfully fired and that others conspired to blame them.
In their lawsuit, Donna Hinds and Keith Hayes do not acknowledge whether they participated in the mileage doctoring. But they say the practice was so widespread that even the chief mechanical officer allegedly encouraged it to ensure the T would have the 800 buses needed for service each day. Once the practice came to light, they maintain, discipline was meted out haphazardly.
“Two years ago, we wrote a letter to the MBTA . . . saying, ‘Look, just put these people back to work,’ and there would be no litigation,’’ said Michelle Carnevale of Salem, a lawyer for Hayes and Hinds. “It just seems that for a company that says they have no money . . . they [could] spend hundreds of thousands litigating something that could have been settled for nothing.’’
MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera said T lawyers were aware the lawsuit had been filed Friday but had not yet been served with the case, calling it premature to comment.
“However, the MBTA is completely confident that it acted properly when it discharged both of these employees,’’ Rivera said.
MBTA garage technicians are supposed to perform preventive maintenance inspections - changing oil and filters and examining key components - on all 1,050 buses every 6,000 miles.
The T said previously that it began an investigation in February 2010 after a routine audit found two buses that appeared in need of such inspection, though the computer system indicated they were not due. Further review found that the mileage reading on the buses differed from that recorded in the database.
That prompted an investigation that, according to T officials, found that at least 200 buses had logged as many as 35,000 miles between 6,000-mile preventive maintenance inspections.
Top officials and rank-and-file employees said the missed inspections did not pose a safety risk to the public but could cause poor performance and premature deterioration of buses. Daily visual inspection by drivers and onboard computers caught safety threats, they said.
Terrence Ward, a recently retired bus operations worker and leader of a group of minority employees who have challenged the T over other issues, said the MBTA was right to root out the practice.
“But I think it was wrong for them to blame low-level management, because if you get a direct order to do something, that’s what you do,’’ said Ward, who was not disciplined in the matter.
The lawsuit contends that the practice was so common that it was impossible to determine how many perpetuated it, though some who appeared to be implicated protected themselves by contending that after they failed to log out of the computers, others had doctored mileage.
Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said those involved merit little sympathy.
“If there’s not enough people and not enough buses, you don’t cook the findings; you let the balls hit the floor,’’ said Regan, whose board represents cities and towns that pay a portion of the T’s budget. “The people who were responsible needed to be let go and should stay out.’’Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.