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Northern Illinois Flight Center ordered by US Labor Department’s OSHA to reinstate, pay more than $500,000 to illegally terminated pilot

Whistleblower investigation found violations of the federal Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century

CHICAGO — An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that Northern Illinois Flight Center violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, known as AIR21, by illegally terminating an employee. The whistleblower, a pilot from Illinois, was dismissed after contacting the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss violations of the pilot certification process. As a result, OSHA has ordered the company to immediately reinstate the employee and pay more than $500,000 in back wages, benefits and damages.

“Firing pilots for reporting inaccurate procedures to the FAA endangers other pilots, their passengers and the public at large,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “The Labor Department has a responsibility to protect all employees, including those in the aviation industry, from retaliation for raising safety concerns and exercising these basic worker rights.”

The pilot alleges that he was asked to falsify an FAA Form 61.55 pilot certification for a training flight he performed with another pilot. He maintained that all required elements were not completed during the training flight conducted Feb. 16, 2009, so he could not certify the form. He also alleges that, on March 23, Northern Illinois Flight Center supervisors attempted to coerce him into signing a backdated and incorrect form. During a subsequent conversation, the pilot informed his supervisors that he wanted to contact the FAA directly to get clarification on the issue, and between March 25 and 27, the pilot contacted the FAA Flight Standards District. The pilot was terminated April 7, with no reason stated. The investigation, conducted by OSHA’s Chicago office, upheld the pilot’s allegations and found that he would not have been terminated if he had not requested to meet with the FAA for the purpose of discussing the pilot certification process and forms.

Northern Illinois Flight Center is based in Lake in the Hills and employs pilots to fly aircraft for the transportation of passengers and property.

OSHA conducted the investigation under the whistleblower provisions of AIR21, which protects employees who report alleged violations of any order, regulation, or standard of the FAA or any other provision of federal law relating to air carrier safety under this subtitle or any other law of the United States, or who engage in other protected activities.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the AIR21 and 21 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various railroad, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, maritime and securities laws. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government.

Any party to this case can file an appeal with the Labor Department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days of receipt of the findings.

Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor to request an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employee whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available at http://www.whistleblowers.gov.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.

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