The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has ordered AirTran Airways, a subsidiary of Southwest Airlines, to reinstate a former pilot who was fired after he reported numerous mechanical concerns to the agency.
The pilot’s complaint alleged that the airline removed him from flight status on Aug. 23, 2007, pending an investigative hearing regarding a sudden spike in the pilot’s mechanical malfunction reports. Subsequently, the airline held an internal investigative hearing on Sept. 6, 2007, which lasted little more than 15 minutes.
One week later, the airline terminated the pilot’s employment, claiming that he did not satisfactorily answer a question regarding the spike in the number of malfunction reports he filed. OSHA found that the pilot did not refuse to answer any questions during the hearing, answers to questions were appropriate, and the action taken by the airline was retaliatory.
An investigation conducted under OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program determined that the pilot’s termination was a retaliatory act in violation of federal whistleblower provisions.
In addition to ordering the pilot’s reinstatement, OSHA also ordered AirTran to pay the pilot more than $1 million in back wages, interest, and compensatory damages.
“Airline workers must be free to raise safety and security concerns, and companies that diminish those rights through intimidation or retaliation must be held accountable,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. “Airline safety is of vital importance, not only to the workers, but to the millions of Americans who use our airways.”
“Retaliating against a pilot for reporting mechanical malfunctions is not consistent with a company that values the safety of its workers and customers,” Dr. Michaels added. “Whistleblower laws are designed to protect workers’ rights to speak out when they have safety concerns, and the Labor Department will vigilantly protect and defend those fundamental rights.”
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in conduct protected by federal whistleblower laws and statutes may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program.
For more information about whistleblower laws, visit BeasleyAllen.com.