Update on AA Shoe Bomber dispatcher

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Sep 10, 2002
The Dallas Morning News
September 18, 2002
American wins, loses labor cases
OSHA rules against shoe-bomb flight dispatcher, for pilot
WASHINGTON – American Airlines did not retaliate against a dispatcher who raised security concerns after last year''s shoe bomber incident but did seek reprisal against a pilot who publicly criticized the airline''s fatigue policies, the U.S. Labor Department has found in two recent decisions.
In a letter dated Aug. 23, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it found no merit to allegations of whistle-blower discrimination lodged by Julie Robichaux, the Fort Worth-based dispatcher who handled American Airlines Flight 63 on Dec. 22.
A passenger on the Paris-to-Miami flight, Richard Reid, stands accused of trying to blow up the airplane by igniting a plastic explosive in his shoes. The plane was diverted to Boston.
We''re pleased with the department''s findings, American spokesman Steve Tankel said Tuesday, referring to Ms. Robichaux''s case.
Ms. Robichaux, who said she will appeal, complained internally and in a training videotape that airline supervisors interfered with her during the incident and seemed more worried about the potential for systemwide delays than the status of Flight 63. American officials said Ms. Robichaux did not realize they were working diligently behind the scenes to bring the plane in for a safe landing.
After she was ordered to attend a formal counseling session for allegedly failing to follow company procedures, Ms. Robichaux filed a federal whistle-blower complaint against American, alleging that she had been subjected to intimidation, threats and disciplinary action.
In the decision, obtained by The Dallas Morning News under the Freedom of Information Act, Gerald Foster, OSHA''s regional supervisor in Dallas, wrote that the counseling session was based on legitimate business reasons, rather than retaliation for any activities protected by the [whistle-blower protection] Act.
Mr. Foster said there was no evidence that the airline took adverse actions of any sort against Ms. Robichaux after she made the internal complaints and participated in the training video, produced by the American pilots'' union.
In a separate decision dated Sept. 12, Mr. Foster found that American unfairly singled out Rich Rubin, a Miami-based pilot, for disciplinary action after Mr. Rubin criticized the airline''s safety practices during two public appearances. American had said that Mr. Rubin violated company policy by wearing his uniform at the events.
Mr. Foster ordered American to delete two career-damaging documents – a permanent discussion record and a warning letter – from Mr. Rubin''s personnel record.
In a prepared statement, Mr. Rubin said: It''s a credit to our democratic system that airline employees like me who are fighting for safety improvements remain protected against discrimination under federal law. Without this protection, we would be hard-pressed to survive the never-ending battle with airline managers who fiercely resist changes to the status quo for economic reasons.
Mr. Tankel said American would appeal the decision on the grounds that its disciplinary actions in the Rubin case were justified and appropriate and not discriminatory or retaliatory.
This is not about air carrier safety; safety is our top priority. This is about one pilot''s noncompliance with the company uniform policy, he said.
Mr. Rubin and American have been at odds in recent years over flight scheduling and crew-rest issues. Mr. Rubin said, for example, that airline officials harassed and threatened him after he complained about the removal – for cost reasons – of the third pilot on American''s flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Honolulu in the summer of 2001. He filed a whistle-blower complaint and settled with the airline before OSHA rendered a decision.
In January, Mr. Rubin and two other pilots appeared in uniform and spoke with reporters outside the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as a lawsuit with nationwide ramifications was being argued. The Air Transport Association, a trade group representing American and other major airlines, had challenged Federal Aviation Administration rules limiting the amount of time pilots could remain on duty.
All three American pilots were critical of their company''s role in the lawsuit. But Mr. Rubin was the only pilot to be disciplined – through the placement of a permanent discussion record in his file – for appearing off-duty in uniform.
Similarly, after Mr. Rubin appeared at a Miami news conference with three other pilots in April, he received only a warning letter.
The evidence indicates that other pilots engaged in the same or similar conduct as [Mr. Rubin] and were treated differently, Mr. Foster wrote in his decision, a copy of which was obtained from the American pilots'' union, the Allied Pilots Association. American either failed to take any disciplinary action against these pilots or failed to take the same level of discipline against these pilots, he wrote.
Mr. Foster concluded that Mr. Rubin was singled out because he filed a safety complaint with the FAA.
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