A male flight crew employee working for “Southern Air Inc”, which is a cargo airline, complained twice to managment about safety concerns. First he complained about inadequate rest breaks. Then he complained about being forced to work extra hours, beyond what the FAA allows by law. So what happened next?
Southern Air retaliated against the employee, of course! First he received less work. Then the company “discovered” problems with his job performance. Then, in April of 2008, he was terminated.
After being terminated the employee filed a complaint with a regional office of OSHA. OSHA investigated, and found that the employee’s complaint had merit. OSHA issued a prelimiary opinion, ordering Southern Air to pay the terminated employee:
“$300,000 for loss of career wages, $135,240 in compensatory damages, $7,394.65 in attorney’s fees and back pay of $1,485 per week, plus interest, from April 7, 2008, through the date of payment.”
That comes to a total of $505,004.65 before interest. To break down how OSHA reached that figure, let me explain that “career wages” means how much money the flight crew member would have made between now until the end of his career at Southern Air — if Southern Air had not illegally terminated him for being a whistleblower.
“Compensatory Damages” of $135,240 includes out of pocket costs that this employee suffered because he was illegally terminated. A portion could be the cost he had to pay for COBRA health care coverage every month, that would have regularly been paid by the company. Another portion of that figure could be medical bills that he incurred for stress and anxiety caused by management illegally terminating him.
His attorney fee award of $7,394.65 is shocking. Shocking because it’s so LOW. The usual total cost to take an employment lawsuit to trial if you were paying your attorney on an hourly basis would be $50,000 to $100,000 (not if you were paying the attorney a 33% contingency fee).
Why is the cost so low? Because most of the work was done by OSHA, the administrative agency that the employee complained to. This is part of why I advocate filing an administrative complaint early in the process; it saves you tons of money, and still provides you with legal protection.
Now, this story may not be over. Both sides can file an appeal with Labor Department. If they don’t like that result they can appeal to federal district court. But interest will be accumulating the entire time, and the legal interest right for unpaid judgments is much higher than what banks pay. It’s 9% here. That’s a big incentive to pay the employee now and forego all the appeals.
If you would like to learn more about protecting your own rights and learning how to pursue a whistleblower or administrative claim you get can my book on the topic, which has helped thousands of people already.
Or, if you would like to learn more about the employer in this case you can read about Souther Air on the company’s own website: Southern Air Website (with photos); there’s also a short Wikipedia article about the company you might enjoy checking out HERE.