The pilot was removed from flight status in August 2007 following an increase in his mechanical malfunction reports. AirTran investigated and subsequently terminated the pilot, allegedly claiming the pilot did not satisfactorily answer a question about the reports in the course of the investigation. OSHA, however, considered the action "retaliatory" and stressed that pilots' rights to report safety concerns must be protected.
"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.
OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program found reasonable cause to believe that the termination was in violation of the whistleblower provision of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, known as AIR21. The agency has ordered AirTran, which is a subsidiary of Southwest Airlines Co., to reinstate the pilot and pay more than $1 million in back wages plus interest and compensatory damages.
"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," Michaels added.
When reached for comment, a Southwest Airlines public relations employee informed EHS Today that the company could not comment on pending regulatory litigation. 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.
More information about employee whistleblower rights can be found at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.