The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have demanded the reinstatement of a pilot fired by AirTran Airways for whistleblowing. The former pilot had initially been let go in August 2007 after he reported various concerns about mechanical malfunctions on planes he piloted. Before the pilot’s dismissal, AirTran removed him from flight status pending an investigation into the spike in malfunction reports. A week after AirTran held a 17 minute investigative hearing, the airline terminated the pilot for unsatisfactorily answering questions regarding the increase in reports.
After a complaint to OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program, OSHA undertook its own investigation and concluded that the pilot was terminated for retaliatory reasons; a move that is in violation of the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21). OSHA found no evidence to support the claims by the airline that the pilot refused to answer questions during the investigative hearing. OSHA instead found that the pilot’s answers were appropriate and deemed the firing as an act of retaliation.
In addition to reinstatement, the pilot will also be paid over $1 million in back wages plus interest and other punitive damages. OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels stated, “Retaliating against a pilot for reporting mechanical malfunctions is not consistent with a company that values the safety of its workers and customers. 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 case is open for appeal; however, no attempted appeal will negate the initial order for job reinstatement.