A judge has ruled that Delta Air Lines unfairly discriminated against a whistleblowing pilot by calling into question her psychiatric health.
Judge Rules Delta Discriminated Against Pilot Who Expressed Safety Concerns
Karlene Petitt earned a PHD in aviation safety from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. She has also been a pilot for more than 40 years and is a First Officer with Northwest and later Delta. She submitted a report to mangers outlining issues she noted with fatigue, pilot training, and Delta’s safety management system.
Her lawsuit claimed that rather than thanking her, Delta grounded her then sent her to a company doctor for a psychiatric examination. There, Petitt was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and placed on paid leave.
At the time, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson was overseeing pilots at Delta. During the lawsuit, Dickson provided deposition testimony. In his ruling on the matter, U.S. Department of Labor Judge Scott Morris wrote that he “finds less than credible Captain Dickson’s deposition testimony” and noted many of his responses were “evasive.” Dickson said he failed to recall specific details about the incident.
Judge Morris deemed Petitt’s legal team had demonstrated discriminatory retaliation and held Delta had “unlawfully discriminated against [her] in the form of a career defining Section 15 metal health evaluation.”
The decision noted that “any allegation of a mental health deficiency for a professional pilot can be fatal to their career.” It also said that “to formally question a pilot’s mental fitness stigmatizes that pilot in the eyes of the close-knit aviation community, regardless of the ultimate outcome.” Petitt’s is harmed by “medical records that will forever be in her FAA medical file,” the decision said.
But a Delta spokesperson notes Delta intends to appeal the ruling.
“We disagree with the administrative law judge’s ruling and intend to appeal.”
The spokesperson also noted that Petitt’s claims were carefully investigated and that she was not retaliated against.
It’s an interesting case in the sense that I can see both sides. Yes, there appeared to be retaliatory discrimination based upon Petitt stirring the pot. At the same time, we’ve all seen the PHDs who think they have all the answers and I cannot imagine Delta would just ignore her input if it had any merit. We’ll keep an eye on this case as it works its way through the appeals process.
image: Karlene Petitt / Facebook