Arbitrator rules that FAA chief aided retaliation case

FILE - In this April 1, 2020, file photo, several dozen Delta Air Lines jets are parked at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Mo. A U.S. Labor Department judge says the head of the Federal Aviation Administration helped Delta Air Lines retaliate against a pilot who raised safety concerns while he was an executive with the airline. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this April 1, 2020, file photo, several dozen Delta Air Lines jets are parked at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Mo. A U.S. Labor Department judge says the head of the Federal Aviation Administration helped Delta Air Lines retaliate against a pilot who raised safety concerns while he was an executive with the airline. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A U.S. Labor Department judge says the head of the Federal Aviation Administration helped Delta Air Lines retaliate against a pilot who raised safety concerns while he was an executive with the airline.

An administrative law judge for the department ruled that Stephen Dickson and other Delta executives steered a human-resources procedure so that the pilot would undergo a psychiatric evaluation that independent doctors deemed unwarranted.

Delta said Monday that it plans to appeal the ruling. The FAA declined to comment on the ruling, instead pointing to Dickson’s past comments on the case, including that he wasn’t deeply involved in it.

The pilot, Karlene Petitt sued Atlanta-based Delta in a Labor Department administrative proceeding in 2016. In the decision dated last week, administrative law judge Scott Morris agreed with Petitt that Delta ordered the psychiatric review to punish her after she raised safety issues including forcing pilots to fly when fatigued.

The judge said Delta failed to produce evidence of any shortcomings in Petitt’s performance as a pilot.

“Not a single witness questioned her flying acumen,” Morris wrote in a decision running more than 100 pages. Instead, he said, the evidence suggests Delta manipulated its process “to achieve a desired outcome."

Petitt asked for $30 million in punitive damages, but the judge said he has no power to grant that. He said $500,000 for lost wages and Petitt’s damaged career is warranted.

The administrative law judge said two other Delta officials, Jim Graham, who was then Dickson's deputy in flight operations, and attorney Christopher Puckett were “the two key actors" in subjecting Petitt to the evaluation and picking a doctor inclined to find her unfit to fly.