Whistleblower suit


Sep 16, 2002
Whistle-blower wins fight against United
By David Kesmodel, Rocky Mountain News
December 24, 2002
United Airlines wrongfully fired a veteran aircraft mechanic because he raised concerns about a safety incident at the carrier''s Denver hub, a federal judge has ruled.
United must pay David Lawson $104,274 in back wages, as well as $15,000 in damages for causing emotional distress, Joseph E. Kane, an administrative law judge for the Department of Labor in Cincinnati, ordered Friday.
Lawson, 43, who was fired in May 2001, sought reinstatement and payment for lost wages under a whistle-blower law that protects airline workers who report safety problems.
Lawson returned to his United job at Denver International Airport in August, following a preliminary ruling in his favor by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Most people will not risk their jobs for the truth or for other people''s safety, said Steve Silvern, one of Lawson''s attorneys. David Lawson, G.T. Davis (a Denver-based United mechanic who has appealed a defeat in a similar case) and other whistle-blowers deserve the thanks of all airline travelers.
Chicago-based United, DIA''s dominant carrier, plans to appeal Kane''s decision, spokesman Jeff Green said.
Silvern said he''s hopeful United will have to make all payments to Lawson even though the company is operating under bankruptcy-court protection from creditors.
Kane agreed with Lawson''s contention that United, a unit of UAL Corp., fired him because he aggressively and repeatedly asked the airline to address a 2000 incident involving maintenance on a jet.
United says it fired Lawson because he cursed at a manager, Steve Sanborn, and intimidated Sanborn in April 2001. We believe our actions were unrelated to any whistle-blower allegations, Green said.
Kane ordered United to expunge all references in Lawson''s personnel file to his pursuit of a safety investigation, as well as disciplinary actions United took. He also ordered United to pay Lawson''s legal fees and $2,400 in lost employee benefits.
This is a foundation for the (2-year-old) air whistle-blower act, said Lawson, who started at United in 1985. I hope others will come forward in the future when confronted with similar situations.
It''s a shame that hundreds of thousands of dollars have to be spent on a trial for a safety concern that could have, and should have, been dealt with by local management.
The incident occurred in the early hours of July 6, 2000.
Lawson and Jim Pommerer were repairing a system that controls temperature on a plane and pressurizes the aircraft. Pommerer shut off the air that supplies the system and told the flight crew it should remain off until they finished.
Without conferring with either worker, a supervisor, Kevin Huber, told the flight crew that maintenance was complete and the plane was ready for dispatch, Lawson alleged.
The crew turned the air back on. Lawson was away from the jet, but Pommerer was working. Startled, he immediately jumped to the ground. He was not harmed, but Lawson said he feared a more serious incident in the future.
Lawson admitted cursing at Sanborn on April 2, 2001. He said he was upset with Sanborn because he thought Sanborn had botched the investigation into the incident.
Also, Lawson''s attorneys argued that United had never fired another mechanic at DIA for similar reasons as Lawson''s, even though several mechanics testified that they, too, had cursed at managers.
Kane found Sanborn''s testimony in a June 2002 hearing in Denver was totally lacking credibility. For one, he said, Sanborn told supervisors he met with Lawson numerous times after the incident in response to an order to do so, but no meeting took place.
Again Uniteds' prowess for safety is reflected. There are more whistleblower cases in the works. Hope everyone is watching there appears to be a trend in Uniteds' maint. management prctices.

January 20, 2002

More Evidence of United's Lack of Concern for Safety:
Mechanic Exonerated in United Airlines Whistleblower Violation

LACONIA, N.H., Jan 15, 2002 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The U.S. Department of Labor issued a Preliminary Order dated January 8th ruling in favor of United Airlines employee George Gulliford, in his case against United Airlines alleging that United Airlines discriminated against him in violation of 49 U.S.C. 42121. Gulliford is an associate member of AMFA (Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association).

Gulliford was reprimanded after reporting a crack in the Station 188 frame of aircraft 1366. He filed his complaint on Sept. 18, 2001 with the Secretary of Labor-OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) under the employee protection provisions of 49 U.S.C. 42121 of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21 Act).

Gulliford was represented by AMFA's attorney, Lee Seham of Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen, LLP.

"Unfortunately, it's common practice for airlines to threaten aircraft mechanics for reporting problems outside their work areas," said O.V. Delle-Femine, AMFA National Director. "We at AMFA say that's wrong. We're pleased there's now a law to protect mechanics and encourage them to come forward, and we're proud to have helped Mr. Gulliford earn his victory."

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