A former quality-assurance auditor at Alaska Airlines has filed a wrongful-termination suit against the airline, alleging he was forced out after identifying safety flaws.
Kevin Murray, 47, filed the suit in California, where he had worked at Alaska's heavy-maintenance facility in Oakland. Murray's job was eliminated when Alaska shut down the facility last year as part of a new program to outsource its major repair work.
Murray, who alleges others were transferred to new jobs, is seeking unspecified monetary damages for lost wages, emotional distress and other costs, as well as punitive damages. His suit was first filed in a California state court in July but was moved in September to federal court in San Francisco at Alaska's request.
The suit was filed after the federal Department of Labor, acting on a complaint from Murray, rejected his claim that Alaska terminated him for whistle-blowing activities. The agency found in June that he was laid off because of the closure of the Oakland facility.
Alaska declined comment on the suit.
The Seattle-based carrier is dealing with the suit as it faces renewed questions about its quality-assurance procedures, nearly six years after the deadly crash of Alaska Flight 261 in January 2000. Federal investigators concluded that the crash resulted from maintenance shortcomings specifically the failure to lubricate a key part in the plane's tail section called the jackscrew. All 88 passengers and crew were killed when the MD-83 plunged into the Pacific Ocean off Southern California.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is examining Alaska's repair practices after three incidents in the last year raised new questions about the airline's procedures for lubricating the part, including Alaska's oversight of work by outside contractors.
Murray was hired by Alaska in 2002 as a mechanic and then became an auditor in 2003, according to his suit.
The suit alleges that when his job was eliminated, other Alaska officials were allowed to transfer to jobs in Seattle and that Murray had applied for open positions.
"It was just an obvious, obvious ploy to get rid of me," Murray said in an interview.
He said during his tenure he had warned Alaska that mechanics were partially completing work and handing it off to other mechanics without adequate safeguards to assure tasks were ultimately done.
In one instance, Alaska put an MD-80 jet back into passenger service with an improperly installed engine-control cable, Murray said in a news release about his suit. On another occasion, a tail-control component was left on a work bench after a mechanic and inspector signed it off as installed, the release said.
Murray's suit alleges he took his concerns to the FAA, prompting Alaska to chastise him.
Murray said that in a previous job at Emery Worldwide Airlines, he warned the airline and the FAA of safety problems before the February 2000 crash of an Emery cargo plane that killed three crew members near Sacramento, Calif. Federal investigators blamed the crash on poor maintenance, and an industry newsletter cited Murray's warning in an article on the crash.
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