Whistleblower Owed Over $1 million In Back Wages And
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health
Administration has ordered AirTran Airways to reinstate a former
pilot who was fired after reporting numerous mechanical concerns.
The agency also has ordered that the pilot be paid more than $1
million in back wages plus interest and compensatory damages. An
investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program found
reasonable cause to believe that the termination was an act of
retaliation in violation of the whistleblower provision of the
Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st
Century, known as AIR21.
"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."
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, or PIREPS. The airline held an internal investigative
hearing on Sept. 6, 2007, that lasted 17 minutes. Seven days later,
the airline terminated the pilot's employment, claiming that he did
not satisfactorily answer a question regarding the spike in
reports. 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
"Retaliating against a pilot for reporting mechanical
malfunctions is not consistent with a company that values the
safety of its workers and customers," added Michaels.
"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." The
U.S. Department of Labor does not release names of employees
involved in whistleblower complaints.
AirTran told USA Today that it would not comment on an
Either party to the case can file an appeal with the Labor
Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges, but such an
appeal does not stay the preliminary reinstatement order. OSHA
enforces the whistleblower provision of AIR21, as well as 20 other
statutes protecting employees who report violations of various
securities, trucking, workplace health and safety, nuclear,
pipeline, environmental, rail, maritime, health care, consumer
product and food safety laws.
Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for
engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the
secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower