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March 5, 2019

Whistleblower’s retaliation claim against United Airlines allowed to proceed, Fourth Circuit orders

On Dec. 26, 2018, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed in part the dismissal of a lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act by a former 28-year United Airlines employee, who is represented by Motley Rice. The employee, a former Lead Aviation Maintenance Technician, was fired after blowing the whistle to management about United’s alleged fraudulent repairs and inspections of engines on the Air Force’s fleet of C-17 cargo jets.

The lawsuit alleges that between 2008 and 2014, the employee repeatedly alerted management about problems with United’s repairs and inspections of C-17 engines, which the airline performed at the Charleston Air Force Base. The employee alleges that United violated Air Force technical orders and federal aviation regulations by:

  • Falsely certifying that engine repairs and inspections had been completed even when they had not.
  • Falsely certifying engine repairs and inspections that were performed using “uncalibrated and uncertified tools” or without required equipment that United “did not possess.”
  • Coercing employees “into not making write ups” to report “problematic engines” and instead asking employees to make such write ups “disappear or shop for another investigator to sign the item off.”

The lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, alleges that the employee repeatedly alerted management to United’s violations, and that United’s use of “unserviceable” tools could “result in catastrophic engine failure.” In 2014, after United management observed the employee “taking pictures” to document these violations, he was “immediately escorted out of the building” and fired.

After the district court dismissed the litigation in September 2017, the employee appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which in December 2018 reversed that dismissal in part, allowing the employee’s retaliation claim to proceed, while affirming the dismissal of separate claims asserting that United caused false claims for its work to be submitted to the government.

Read the Fourth Circuit’s opinion.

Motley Rice attorneys have experience representing whistleblowers in qui tam, Dodd-Frank and other areas, including representing one of the most well-known whistleblowers who helped shed light on misleading and negligent actions committed by the tobacco industry, resulting in the historic Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. We know that confidentiality is crucial while handling sensitive information, and are prepared to protect the rights of potential whistleblowers to the best of our ability. If you have information regarding this case or wish to discuss another, you can send a confidential email to our whistleblower team or call 1.800.768.4026.