Southwest Airlines has agreed to pay $35,000 to settle whistleblower allegations filed by a mechanic who claimed the airline threatened him with disciplinary action for finding and reporting cracks in the fuselage of a Boeing 737-700 he inspected.
Southwest aviation mechanic Charles Hall was assigned to inspect the airplane on July 2. According to court documents, “During his inspection, [Mr. Hall] discovered two cracks on the aircraft’s fuselage and documented them … Discovery of these cracks resulted in the aircraft being removed from service to be repaired.”
On July 5, Mr. Hall received an order directing him to “attend a meeting to discuss the issue of working outside the scope of his assigned task.” The letter of instruction from Southwest also said, “Please be aware that any further violations of MPM [maintenance procedural manual] may result in further disciplinary action.”
The U.S. Department of Labor chose not to back Mr. Hall’s complaint in August. Mr. Hall appealed his complaint to administrative law judge Scott Morris, who refused Southwest’s request to dismiss the complaint.
“Mr. Hall asserted that the letter had the effect of intimidating him and dissuading him and other Southwest Airlines mechanics from reporting the discovery of cracks, abnormalities, or defects out of fear of reprisal discipline. Southwest Airlines provided little, if any, evidence at this stage of the proceeding to rebut these allegations,” Judge Morris explained in his order.
According to court documents, Mr. Hall discovered the cracks while he was checking the airplane’s hydraulic system as part of the maintenance procedure. He believed the cracks made the aircraft unsafe to fly, and took the proper procedures in reporting the flaws.
Judge Morris said it was clear that Mr. Hall engaged in protected activity by reporting the cracks and thus should not have been made to fear for his job.
Southwest argued that it sent Mr. Hall the letter of instruction because he strayed beyond the scope of his job duties, not because he reported the safety problem. The airline also argued that it never took disciplinary action against Mr. Hall over the incident.
Source: Dallas Morning News