%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A lawsuit filed by current and former employees alleges that General Electric Aircraft Engines is illegally classifying some managers as salaried professionals to avoid paying them overtime.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, also says GE improperly deducts wages or vacation time from these managers if they are absent for parts of a day. Those policies violate the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour laws, the lawsuit says.

``Simply put, GEAE forces its managers to often work without required compensation,'' the lawsuit states.

GE Aircraft Engines, a unit of General Electric Co., said Tuesday that it denies the allegations and will fight the lawsuit.

``GE denies any claims that it has failed to pay overtime to employees eligible for overtime under federal and state wage and hour laws,'' spokesman Rick Kennedy said from the company's headquarters in suburban Evendale.

The lawsuit asks the court to halt the wage policies and order GE to provide unspecified back pay, money damages and attorneys' fees to the employees.

The lawsuit also asks the court for permission to represent hundreds or thousands of employees who have worked under similar circumstances at GE facilities around the country during the past three years.

GE Aircraft Engines makes and services aircraft and marine propulsion engines. It employs about 26,000 people worldwide.

The lawsuit says the employees are required to record when they are late, or absent for a full or partial day, and the computer system automatically deducts this time from their vacation time or salary. The deductions are reimbursed only if the employees bring the issue to the company's attention, according to the complaint.

The employees are expected to work overtime but the company won't compensate them for that time, saying they are exempt under federal labor law from overtime pay provisions, the lawsuit said.

The employees are randomly selected to receive ``planned overtime'' compensation but are paid straight time rather than overtime pay of one and a half times their wage rate, the lawsuit said.

The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are two GE employees from suburban Cincinnati, Albert J. Carnevale of West Chester and Franklin R. DeNyse of Fairfield.