U.S. Appeals Court Upholds Decision to Back Airline Pilot on Safety Concerns

March 10, 2006

The U. S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, Boston, has denied a petition by Vieques Air Link Inc. (VAL) to review a U.S. Department of Labor order mandating reinstatement and back pay for a pilot who was reportedly terminated from the Puerto Rico-based airline after he raised safety concerns.

The Feb. 2 decision by Circuit Judges Juan Torruella and Kermit Victor Lipez and District Judge Joseph DiClerico Jr. upholds earlier U.S. Labor Department findings that VAL violated the whistleblower provisions of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR 21) when it suspended, then fired, the pilot shortly after he brought safety concerns to the attention of both his employer and the Federal Aviation Administration in March 2002.

The pilot filed a complaint with the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which investigates whistleblower complaints under AIR 21. OSHA’s investigation found reasonable cause that the complaint had merit.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) subsequently issued a concurring decision ordering the airline to reinstate the pilot and pay him a total of $72,315, plus interest, in back wages, compensatory damages and medical and legal fees. The department’s Administrative Review Board upheld the ALJ decision, after which VAL petitioned the court of appeals.

“It is vital that employees be able to raise safety concerns to their employers and appropriate public safety agencies without fear of retaliation,” said Patricia Clark, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York, whose office investigated the complaint. “This decision reaffirms both the right of employees to seek safe working conditions and the Labor Department’s commitment to take the necessary steps to protect that right.”

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