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AirTran Ordered to Rehire Pilot Fired Over Safety Reporting

AirTran Airways, a unit of Southwest Airlines Co., was ordered by the U.S. to rehire and pay more than $1 million in back wages to a pilot fired in 2007 after he reported mechanical flaws.

The airline violated whistle-blower protection laws when it dismissed the pilot after a sudden increase in his reports detailing mechanical failures, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration said today in a statement.

The agency is also requiring Orlando, Florida-based AirTran, which was acquired by Southwest in May, to pay the pilot, who wasn’t identified by the agency, back wages, plus interest and compensatory damages, according to the statement.

An agency investigation found reasonable cause to believe the termination was an act of retaliation by the airline in violation of the law, OSHA said in the statement.

“Airline workers must be free to raise safety and security concerns, and companies that diminish those rights through intimidation and retaliation must be held accountable,” David Michaels, the head of OSHA, said in the e-mailed statement.

The pilot in a complaint said AirTran removed him from flight status in August 2007 following a “sudden spike in the pilot’s mechanical malfunctioning reports,” the agency said in the statement. The airline held a 17-minute investigative hearing on the increase in his reports. Seven days later, the company fired him, saying he didn’t satisfactorily answer questions about a jump in reports.

The safety agency, part of the Labor Department, found that the pilot didn’t refuse to answer questions at the hearing, answers to the questions were appropriate, and the airline’s actions were retaliatory.

“We cannot comment on an ongoing regulatory investigation,” Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

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