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Air Carrier Accused Of Punishing Whistleblower

Courtesy of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Bald Mountain Air Service is accused of suspending, firing and then essentially blacklisting a pilot who blew the whistle on the company for violating federal safety standards. The U.S. Department of Labor ordered the air service to reinstate the pilot and pay him $100,000 in damages on top of a little more than three years’ back pay. 

The pilot claimed he saw problems in Bald Mountain Air’s record keeping for flight checks and training out of their Homer office, back in the fall of 2012. In addition, he reported pilots were missing drug tests.

“He raised his concerns internally and after not getting the response that he had hoped for he reached out to the FAA,” said Kammer.

Tobias Kammer, the Acting Assistant Regional Administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, can’t name the pilot. He says the Federal Aviation Administration ran a surprise inspection of the airline in November 2012.

“It’s my understanding that [there] were FAA regulations that were violated, but I should also say, what OSHA looked at was whether he was retaliated against for raising those concerns," said Kammer. 

And OSHA decided it looked a lot like retaliation. The airline suspended the whistleblower two days after the inspection and then he was fired two days after that.

Kammer says reporting safety issues at work is a right protected under federal law. When someone claims they were punished for reporting on their employer, OSHA investigates.

In addition to the suspicious timing of the pilot’s dismissal, Kammer says Bald Mountain Air made negative comments to other employees about the pilot’s report.

“And on top of that when the pilot tried to find other work in the aviation industry in Alaska, which you and your listeners probably already know is a small community, he discovered that many other employers were already aware of what he had done,” said Kammer.

Kammer says the pilot has 35 years’ experience, but it looked like no one else would hire him because he reported to the FAA.

Before OSHA ordered Bald Mountain Air to give the pilot back pay and $100,000 in damages, Kammer says they gave the airline a chance to dispute their findings. The company had to prove it would have fired the pilot even if he hadn’t reported them to the FAA. 

“And we didn’t get [a] sufficient response to change our decision,” said Kammer.

Kammer says, Bald Mountain Air claimed it fired the pilot because he was responsible for some of the bad paperwork sent to the FAA. The company blamed the whistleblower for the same mistakes he reported.

“But the investigation didn’t support that. Although I haven’t read the FAA’s documents, it’s my understanding that they also reached a conclusion contrary to the company’s position on that,” said Kammer.

Bald Mountain Air Service and the pilot were given 30 days to object to OSHA’s findings; otherwise the order for the company to make amends will be final.

In addition to the cash reward, the company will have to remove all mention of the case from the pilot’s employment records and post information on federal whistleblower protections for its other employees in Homer and Anchorage.

Aaron Sperbeck, a lawyer representing Bald Mountain Air, said via email that his client denies the allegations against it and “intends to thoroughly examine all of its legal options.”

If the company files an objection it can request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Sperbeck says that deadline to object is near the end of March.

Bald Mountain Air Service declined a request to comment on this story.