Do You Need an Airline Safety Whistleblower Lawyer?

Do You Need an Airline Safety Whistleblower Lawyer?
  • Are you an airline worker who has reported safety issues?
  • Have you been punished at your airline job after complaining about dangerous conditions?
  • How can you protect your career — but still do the right thing?

If you're an air transportation employee facing wrongful termination, the law is on your side.

In 2000, Congress passed The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21) to protect employees who expose air transportation safety violations. Under AIR21's whistleblower-protection provision, workers who believe they have been retaliated against for reporting air safety violations can be protected. If you have suffered wrongful termination, AIR21 may help you to get your job back.

The attorneys at The Employment Law Group® law firm are experienced in representing employees in AIR21 proceedings, both before the U.S. Department of Labor—which enforces the law—and in federal court. Our firm has successfully argued cases resulting in better law for all airline whistleblowers. We are based in Washington, D.C., but we take cases nationwide.

Representing an airline technician, our firm successfully argued that AIR21 applied to an employee working for an American company in France. The Employment Law Group® law firm has prevailed for clients at the earliest stage of the administrative process.

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Important statutes in this area of law:

Notable TELG cases in this area of law:

  • Miller v. Evergreen International Airlines

    OSHA ruled in pilot’s favor where employer told its pilots that it knew who made a report to the FAA and said this pilot would be “educated” — then terminated the pilot’s employment.

  • Dos Santos v. Delta Airlines, Inc.

    An administrative judge confirmed jurisdiction over the complaint of a technician based in France and determined that AIR21 applied extraterritorially to his retaliation claim.

If you have suffered illegal retaliation under AIR21, you may be entitled to reinstatement in your job; back pay for lost wages; front pay for future lost wages; litigation costs and attorney fees; and other compensatory damages.

As with all legal claims, deadlines are crucial. 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 was made and communicated to the employee.

Frequently Asked Questions

What activities are covered by AIR21 whistleblower protection?

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. 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 AIR21 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 AIR21?

AIR21 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 AIR21 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 AIR21 regulations may be subject to an FAA civil penalty.

What can a prevailing plaintiff recover?

Under AIR21, 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, AIR21 authorizes reinstatement, back pay for lost wages, compensatory damages, and litigation costs, including attorney fees.