The attorneys at The Employment Law Group® law firm have substantial experience litigating whistleblower retaliation claims on behalf of employees in the airline industry.
What laws protect Airline Whistleblowers?
In 2000, Congress passed The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21) to protect employees who expose air carrier safety violations. Under AIR-21, employees who believe they have suffered adverse action for reporting air safety violations can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within 90 days of the date on which the discriminatory decision has been made and communicated to the employee.
What activities are protected?
An employee participates in protected activity by: (1) providing specific information to the employer or the federal government relating to any violation or alleged violation of any order, regulation of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or any other federal law relating to air carrier safety; (2) filing a proceeding relating to a violation or alleged violation of air carrier safety rules; (3) testifying in such a proceeding; or (4) assisting or participating in such a proceeding. Specific examples of protected activity include:
1. Alerting the FAA that an aircraft was being flown past its maintenance threshold;
2. Reporting to a supervisor that some aircraft parts in warehouse bins did not contain the FAA required serviceable tag;
3. Disclosing to Management that maintenance records were falsified;
4. Advocating the implementation of the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS);
5. Reporting dust clouds to authorities;
6. Informing flight crew members that an aircraft tire was defective; and
7. Reporting engine vibration, wing slat droop, cracked interior window covers, defective hydraulic reservoir, and missing wing placards.
What must a plaintiff prove to prevail?
To prevail in an AIR-21 case, an employee must prove the following by a preponderance of the evidence:
1. That he engaged in protected activity;
2. That the employer knew about such activity;
3. That the employer subjected him to an unfavorable personnel action; and
4. That the protected activity was a contributing factor in the unfavorable personnel action.
What is the employer's burden of proof?
If a plaintiff successfully proves that his or her protected activity was a contributing factor to the adverse action, an employer may avoid liability if the [employer] demonstrates clear and convincing evidence that it would have legitimately taken the same adverse action despite the [employee's] actions.
What retaliatory acts are prohibited under AIR-21?
AIR-21 prohibits any action taken by an employer which has a negative effect on the employee's terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. This includes intimidation, blacklisting, termination, suspension, demotion, reduction in salary, failure to hire, harassment, and any act that would dissuade a reasonable person from engaging in further protected activity.
What role does the FAA play in protecting airline whistleblowers from retaliation?
When an AIR-21 complaint is filed with DOL, OSHA will provide the FAA with a copy of the complaint and the FAA will conduct an investigation of the safety issues set forth in the complaint. An air carrier who violates AIR-21 regulations may be subject to an FAA civil penalty.
What can a prevailing plaintiff recover?
Under AIR -21, a prevailing employee will be made whole, i.e., will be returned to the same position he or she would have been absent the retaliation. In particular, AIR-21 authorizes reinstatement, back pay for lost wages, compensatory damages, and litigation costs, including attorney fees.
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The Employment Law Group® law firm represents employees nationally who have blown the whistle on corporate fraud and abuse and who have been the victims of discrimination, harassment, or other violations of their civil rights. With offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles, California, The Employment Law Group® law firm’s seasoned trial attorneys have earned a highly desirable record of favorable settlements and verdicts on behalf of its clients.