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Thu Oct 27, 2022, 11:23 AM

Delta 'weaponized' mental health rules against a pilot. She fought back


Delta ‘weaponized’ mental health rules against a pilot. She fought back

By Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times
Updated: 12 hours ago
Published: 12 hours ago

SEATTLE — On Christmas Eve 2016, Karlene Petitt, an international long-haul pilot for Delta Air Lines, received a devastating letter that threatened to end her career.

She had been grounded since March pending an evaluation by a company-assigned doctor. The letter informed her of his diagnosis: She was mentally unfit for duty and would not be permitted to fly again.

Petitt had then been flying commercial jets for 35 years. She’d raised three children, earned a doctorate and two master’s degrees and wrote a series of books, all while performing perfectly as a pilot.

In early November of the previous year, she had sent emails to her superiors criticizing Delta’s safety culture, initiating a series of interactions with them about safety issues.

Just six days later, captain Jim Graham, then Delta’s vice president of flight operations, in an email to a pilot manager under him, indicated clearly his intention to put a stop to Petitt’s critique and to do so using a Kafkaesque process called a “Section 15,” which would label her too mentally unstable to be a pilot.

“We should consider whether a Section 15 is appropriate,” Graham wrote. “If she cannot embrace and understand the reasons behind our actions, it stands to reason she might not be able to make appropriate decisions for the safe operation of a flight.”

Hired by Delta for $74,000, Dr. David Altman produced the necessary diagnosis: In 2016, he evaluated Petitt as having bipolar disorder.

Altman later testified that his diagnosis was driven in part by Petitt’s accomplishments. The books, the degrees, the piloting job, all while raising kids, it was “well beyond what any woman I’ve ever met could do” — and therefore suggestive that she was manic.

This extraordinary process brought the full weight of a big corporation to bear on Petitt. She was grounded. Her career looked over.

Yet she fought back. She resisted. And she won.

Friday, a final settlement of Petitt’s case after a six-and-a-half-year legal battle sealed a comprehensive loss for Delta and a rare instance of complete vindication for a whistleblower.

Administrative Law Judge Scott Morris upheld his earlier order characterizing Delta’s use of the psychiatric diagnosis as an abuse of a mental evaluation system in place for cases of last resort.

Morris ruled it “improper for [Delta] to weaponize this process for the purposes of obtaining blind compliance by its pilots.”

Delta must pay Petitt $500,000 as compensation plus years of legal fees.

Meanwhile, Altman in 2020 forfeited his medical license rather than face charges over his conduct.

Earlier, after Altman’s diagnosis fell apart, Delta was forced to reinstate Petitt.

Petitt’s attorney, Lee Seham, has represented 50 or 60 aviation industry whistleblowers in his career but said he’s “never before been in such an ugly war of attrition as with Delta.”

“They lost before an administrative law judge, they lost before the appellate body, they got thrown out by the 11th Circuit,” he said. “They were willing to litigate it to the death.”

Yet even after Altman’s discrediting and loss of the case, Delta didn’t discipline any employees for deploying what Seham calls a “Soviet-style psychiatric examination” to try to silence Petitt.

In response to a request for comment, Delta provided a statement that made no apology and admitted no wrongdoing.

“We made a business decision to settle the matter rather than appeal a decision that we disagreed with,” spokesperson Catherine Morrow wrote in an email. “Delta’s fitness for duty testing process for pilots is in place to ensure safety and it works.”

Seham finds that worrisome.

“I don’t know that the message to the Delta pilots is anything other than, keep your mouth shut,” he said.

“That an airline can act with that level of impunity is troubling,” Seham added. “Because you can’t have a safe airline if pilots are afraid.”


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Reply Delta 'weaponized' mental health rules against a pilot. She fought back (Original post)
cbabe Oct 2022 OP
whathehell Oct 2022 #1
Trueblue1968 Jul 2 #2

Response to cbabe (Original post)

Thu Oct 27, 2022, 11:43 AM

1. Uppity, overacheiving woman outsmarts corrupt hacks!

"Altman later testified that his diagnosis was driven in part by Pettit s acvomplisments..They were well beyond anything any woman I've ever met could do".

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Response to cbabe (Original post)

Sun Jul 2, 2023, 06:12 PM

2. SHE IS MY HERO!!! LADIES, PLEASE READ THIS. Don't take abuse from your employer lying down.

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