A Chinese-American former employee of Lockheed Martin Corp. is suing the aerospace firm, alleging he was forced to resign from his aeronautical engineering job in Palmdale in 2021 as a result of discrimination stemming in part from the fallout of former President Trump’s “China Initiative.”
Victor Hwa‘s Los Angeles County Superior Court lawsuit alleges wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and harassment and both intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
“Mr. Hwa understood the targeted investigation and subsequent retaliation to be part of the then-Trump Administration’s so-called China Initiative, a national security program ostensibly designed to prosecute espionage by agents of the Chinese government,” the lawsuit states.
The initiative was launched under the Trump administration to counter Beijing’s theft of American intellectual property. But it increasingly came under criticism from civil rights groups who said it created a climate of fear among Asian-Americans and was ended by the Justice Department in February 2022.
According to Hwa’s suit, the initiative normalized racial profiling of Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant academics, scientists and engineers. A Lockheed Martin representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit brought Jan. 10.
Hwa, the 35-year-old son of Chinese immigrants, was hired as a staff aeronautical engineer in the company’s propulsion department in Palmdale in April 2017 and did well in his role, earning excellent performance reviews and awards early in his tenure at Lockheed, the suit states. However, Hwa’s career climb was reportedly stymied in early 2019 after he notified Lockheed he planned to travel to China to visit his aging grandfather, which revealed to the company his familial ties to China, the suit states.
Hwa followed Lockheed’s protocol on reporting international travel prior to his trip and a Lockheed counterintelligence investigator told the plaintiff that his trip was considered “low-risk,” the suit states. But Hwa noticed before his trip that he was being surveilled by Lockheed security personnel, some of whom moved into cubicles next to his work station and documented his whereabouts, according to the suit.
Hwa believes that a White colleague who traveled to Hong Kong not long before the plaintiff’s trip was not subjected to similar surveillance or questioning before and after his trip, the suit states. Hwa was subsequently accused of mishandling Lockheed information in August 2018 and he was called an “insider threat” during an interview, according to the suit.