AirTran Airways must reinstate a pilot it fired after he reported numerous mechanical concerns and pay him more than USD$1 million in back wages plus interest and damages, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on Tuesday.
The pilot, who OSHA declined to identify citing his status as a whistleblower, alleged he was removed from flight status in August 2007 pending a hearing into a sudden spike in the number of reports he made of mechanical malfunctions.
The airline held an internal hearing that lasted 17 minutes two weeks after his flight status was removed. It then fired him a week after that, claiming he did not respond satisfactorily to its questions about the reports, OSHA said in a statement.
OSHA said an investigation found that his answers in the hearing were appropriate, he did not refuse to answer any questions and his discharge was an act of retaliation by AirTran, a Southwest Airlines subsidiary.
"Retaliating against a pilot for reporting mechanical malfunctions is not consistent with a company that values the safety of its workers and customers," OSHA assistant secretary Dr David Michaels said in a statement.
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said the airline was "unable to comment on an ongoing regulatory investigation."
Southwest completed its purchase of AirTran in May 2011.