Airline Punished for Retaliating Against Safety-Conscious Pilot

Federal law provides employees in the Charlotte and across the country the right to report potentially hazardous conditions in the workplace without fear that their employer may retaliate by reducing hours, demoting them, creating a hostile work environment or eliminating their position.

This is especially true when those hazards have the potential to endanger the lives of the public.
This right was underscored earlier this month, when the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration ordered AirTran Airways (a subsidiary of the Texas-based Southwest Airlines) to reinstate a pilot and pay him more than $1 million in back pay and interest, following a federal investigation.
Reports indicate the pilot was fired after he repeatedly pointed out concerns regarding the mechanics of a commercial plane.
Our Charlotte workers compensation attorneys understand that more than 4,500 workers were killed while on the job in 2010. That equates to about 87 each week and 12 every single day.

Many of these accidents are preventable, and happen through no fault of the victim.

Often, a Charlotte workers’ compensation claim stems from the actions or inaction of a careless employer or a defective products or equipment, or even a corporate culture that has become lax about safety standards.

Workers who try to report potential violations may be covered under OSHA’s federal Whistleblower Protection Program.

In this case, OSHA reports the trouble started in the summer of 2007. The pilot, who is not named in the report, was placed on administrative leave in August of that year. Following a short hearing in September, he was terminated.

OSHA discovered in its investigation that immediately prior to being placed on leave, the pilot reported a number of concerns regarding mechanical malfunctions on certain commercial airplanes – the same aircraft that each day ferried hundreds, sometimes thousands, of passengers throughout the country and beyond.

When the pilot was first removed from flight status, he complained to his employer. An internal investigation resulted in a brief hearing in September 2007 – it lasted a total of 17 minutes.

A week later, he was fired, with the airline contending the pilot didn’t adequately answer questions about why his mechanical malfunction reports were increasing.

OSHA found otherwise.

In fact, the federal agency found the pilot answered all questions in a way that should have been satisfactory.

What the airline was doing, OSHA found, was acting in retaliation – a direct violation of OSHA’s whistleblower protection provision of AIR21.

OSHA’s Assistant Secretary, Dr. David Michaels, stressed this point, saying that all workers – but those in the airline industry especially – must be free to raise safety and security concerns. He added that companies that try to degrade those rights by intimidating their employees or acting out in retaliation have to be held accountable.

OSHA encourages employees who think they have experienced this type of retaliation to contact them so it can be investigated, and any injustices rectified.

We also encourage workers in this type of situation to consider the need for appropriate legal counsel. Large companies, like airlines, often have ready access to highly-paid attorneys who know the system, and that can be intimidating for an individual.
But you don’t have to do it alone.

If you or a loved one needs to file a workers compensation claim in Charlotte or elsewhere in the Carolinas, contact Lee Law Offices, P.A. for a free and confidential appointment. Call 1-800-887-1965 to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney about your claim today.

Additional Resources:

OSHA Regional News Release

More Blog Entries:

Urging Employers to Enforce Prevention Programs to Reduce Risks of Work-Related Accidents in Rock Hill and Elsewhere

OSHA’s ‘Picture It: Safe Workplaces for Everyone’ Contest Winner From Charlotte

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