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DOL Judge Rules in Favor of Aircraft Maintenance Whistleblower

In Harding v. So. Cal Precision Aircraft, U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Russell D. Pulver held that 31-year military veteran Michael Harding had engaged in protected whistleblower activity when he reported his employer’s unsafe working conditions to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  ALJ Pulver further held that Harding’s employer violated Section 519 of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR 21), when it terminated Harding for engaging in protected whistleblowing activity.

In December 2006, Harding began work as an inspector at So. Cal. Precision Aircraft, Inc. (later purchased by Norton Aircraft Maintenance Services, Inc.).   He was quickly promoted to lead inspector and later to senior auditor inspector.  Harding made daily complaints to management regarding significant safety issues at work, such as:

  • the improper use of an acetylene torch;
  • the propping open of a 1500-pound cargo door with a wooden 2×4 instead of opening it hydraulically and locking it in place;
  • the operation of the plant without a qualified Director of Maintenance.
Harding regularly documented these complaints in his notebook.  After management found out that Harding reported the safety violations to the FAA, he testified that:


[His manager] entered the office upset and cursing, telling [Harding] that he had six attorneys who were going to “kick [his] ass.”  When [Harding] attempted to leave, [his manager] spit in his face and blocked his way.  [Harding] called for security but when the officer arrived [his manager] told the officer that [Harding] had attacked him and was to leave immediately.
(Internal citations omitted).


ALJ Pulver awarded Harding his lost wages and all expenses reasonably incurred by Harding.  He also ordered Harding immediately reinstated at his former employer.


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