US Court Rules In Favour Of Pilot In Delta Retaliation Case

An administrative law judge in the US has ruled in favor of a pilot against Delta Air Lines. After four years of proceedings, the court has found that executives at the airline, including the current head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), retaliated against the pilot by ordering a psychological evaluation, which led to the pilot’s suspension.

Delta Boeing 757
A court has ruled in favor of a pilot who sued the airline for unfair treatment. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Psychological review finding later cleared by independent doctors

Last week, a Labor Department judge sided with a Delta Air Lines’ pilot in a case against the airline involving the head of the FAA. The court decision stated that while Stephen Dickson was an executive at Delta, he helped the airline administer punitive measures against the pilot after she raised safety concerns.

The pilot, Karlene Petitt, sued Delta Air Lines in a Labor Department administrative proceeding in 2016. After she had raised concerns, including pilots being forced to fly when fatigued, she was prescribed a psychological review by the airline. This, it was argued, was done as retaliation.

The evaluation performed by Delta’s chosen doctor offered the conclusion that Petitt had bipolar disorder and was therefore unfit to operate a plane. She has subsequently been cleared by independent doctors and has returned as a first officer for the airline.

Delta pilots
The evaluation was ordered after the pilot raised concerns she and her colleagues were forced to fly when fatigued. Photo: Getty Images

Evidence of manipulation

In his decision dated last week, the judge agreed with the charges brought against Delta. He said that the carrier had not provided any satisfactory proof to suggest irregularities in Petitt’s performance as a pilot. Rather, the judge said, there was evidence that Delta had manipulated the process.

“Not a single witness questioned her flying acumen,” the judge said in his decision, seen by AP News and spanning over 100 pages.

While the court sided with Petitt, it did not grant her the $30 million in compensation her representatives were seeking. However, the judge said that $500,000 for lost wages and damages to Petitt’s career were warranted.

Delta Air Lines
Stephen Dickson, who at the time was Delta’s Senior VP of Flight Operations, knew about and approved the measures, the court ruling says. Photo: Getty Images

Delta intends to appeal

The judge named two Delta officials as the “key actors” in the human resources process that led to Petitt’s evaluation and suspension. These were the then Deputy of Flight Operations and one of the airline’s attorneys.

However, the decision said, Stephen Dickson, then Delta’s Senior Vice President of Flight Operations, not only knew about but approved the measures taken against the pilot.

Delta Air Lines was not immediately available at a request for comment from Simple Flying. However, a spokesperson for the airline told AP News that Delta denies the pilot’s claims. Furthermore, the carrier said it intends to appeal the ruling.

What do you make of the judge’s decision? Let us know in the comments.