HR Strange But True!
September 22, 2011

Sure there are nuanced issues when a whistleblower complains about another employee, and employers are often in a conundrum over what to do. But should an airline have fired the employee—who reported a pilot steering with his knees—and not the pilot? A court didn’t think so.

According to two recent reports in the Broward Palm Beach New Times, in 2006, an off-duty captain for Florida’s Gulfstream International Airlines was flying in the cabin as a uniformed passenger when he noticed the wings were wiggling erratically against the horizon. Stepping into the cockpit, he saw the on-duty captain controlling the plane with his knees while the other crewmembers watched.

The small airline often let aspiring pilots pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of racking up flight time, so none of the employee witnesses ever reported this pilot’s unusual, and dangerous, habit—well, until the off-duty pilot complained to management.

Unfortunately, instead of firing the “hands-off” pilot, the airline terminated the witness, even though he was protected under the Florida whistleblower law. The whistleblower filed a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Four years later, a jury finally heard the case. After 2 days of deliberation, it found for the plaintiff. No word on awards, but the airline has filed for bankruptcy since the suit was brought. And no word on what ever happened to silent crewmembers and the knee-steering pilot.


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