Airline Safety (AIR21) Whistleblower Retaliation

What laws protect airline safety whistleblowers?

The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21) prohibits retaliation against air carrier industry employees who report information related to air carrier safety. Talk with an airline (AIR21) whistleblower lawyer to better understand your rights.

How do I prove airline safety whistleblower retaliation?

To establish a prima facie case under AIR21, an employee need only show (1) they engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer knew about that activity; (3) the employer subjected them to an adverse employment action; and (4) the protected activity contributed to the adverse action.  49 U.S.C. § 42121(b).

If the whistleblower makes this showing by a preponderance of the evidence, then the employer must prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that it would have taken the same adverse employment action even if the employee had not engaged in protected activity. 

What remedies are available for airline safety whistleblower retaliation?

Under AIR21, a whistleblower can receive the following remedies if they experience retaliation:

  1. reinstatement with the same seniority status that the employee would have had, but for the retaliation;
  2. back pay, with interest; and
  3. compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the retaliation, including emotional distress, litigation costs, expert witness fees, and reasonable attorney fees.

Notably, the emotional distress damages available under AIR21 are uncapped (unlike some other anti-retaliation laws). Talk with an airline whistleblower lawyer to learn more about maximizing potential damages.

Are emotional distress damages available under AIR21?

Yes. Congress specifically allowed victims of whistleblower retaliation to recover emotional distress damages under AIR21.  See 49 U.S.C. 42121(b)(3)(B)(iii). As noted above, these emotional distress damages are not subject to a cap, unlike other employment laws, such as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

What is the deadline to file an AIR21/ airline safety whistleblower complaint?

An AIR21 whistleblower retaliation complaint is subject to a relatively short statute of limitations/deadline: an employee must file their complaint with OSHA within 90 days of when the retaliation occurred. 49 U.S.C. § 42121 (b)(1). Failure to file a timely complaint can result in dismissal of the case. Thus, it is important for an airline employee to file their complaint quickly if they believe they have been retaliated against for their whistleblowing activities.

While AIR21 remains a relatively obscure law, the whistleblower rights it protects are undeniably important and help keep air travel as safe as possible. Talk with an airline whistleblower lawyer to learn more.

Sample client testimonials and related articles/ interviews from Bachman Law

  • “. . . Eric Bachman has legal and professional talents that are second to none . . . His knowledge and experience in the AIR-21/Whistleblower legal arena put me at ease knowing he had my best interests in mind. Eric also demonstrated a very understanding compassion for the issues I was confronting. Eric worked tirelessly, often emailing communications at late hours. Without Eric Bachman I would not be in the fantastic position I am in.”
  • Bachman Law publishes article on 3 key things to know about AIR21
  • PBS Newshour interviews Eric Bachman about legal strategy in whistleblower retaliation cases
  • Law360 interviews Eric Bachman about legal standards in whistleblower retaliation cases
  • What counts as an “adverse action” in whistleblower retaliation cases?

For more information, see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page that answers many common questions in plain English.

If you have experienced workplace discrimination or whistleblower retaliation, call us at (202) 769-1681, or start your preliminary consultation online.

AIR21 lawyer; top airline whistleblower lawyer; Bachman Law

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