Cleveland settles airport whistleblower’s First Amendment-retaliation lawsuit
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport airfield-maintenance manager alerted FAA to safety violations. OSHA found he endured
immediate retaliation. The total recovery now exceeds $500,000.
THE CHANDRA LAW FIRM
1265 West 6th St
Cleveland, OH 44113
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January 24, 2017
Birkely M. Rhodes Manager, Safety Standards Branch Great Lakes Region —Airports Division—Safety & Standards Branch
FAA Great Lakes Regional Office O’Hare Lake Office Center 2300 East Devon Ave., Rm 319 Des Plaines, IL 60018 Birkely.M.Rhodes@faa.gov
Susan Mowery-Schalk Manager, Airports Division Great Lakes Region FAA Great Lakes Regional Office O’Hare Lake Office
Center 2300 East Devon Ave., Rm. 309 Des Plaines, IL 60018 Susan.Mowery-Schalk@faa.gov
Patricia Halpin FAA Hopkins-CLE Certification Safety Inspector Great Lakes Region Airports Division, Safety & Standards Branch
FAA Great Lakes Regional Office O’Hare Lake Office Center 2300 East Devon Ave., Rm. 319 Des Plaines, IL 60018 Tricia.Halpin@faa.gov
Benito De Leon Acting Associate Administrator for Airports FAA 800 Independence Ave, SW Washington, D.C. 20591 Benito.DeLeon@faa.gov
Stephanie Swann Deputy Manager Great Lakes Region Romulus, Detroit, Michigan Airport District Office FAA Detroit ADO 11677-B
South Wayne Rd., Rm. 107 Romulus, MI 48174 Office Phone: 734-229-2902 Fax: 734-229-2920 Stephanie.Swann@faa.gov
Vincent L. Murray II Manager Audit and Analysis Branch FAA—Office of Audit and Evaluation U.S. Department of Transportation
800 Independence Ave., SW Washington, D.C. 20591 Vincent.Murray@faa.gov
Richard Abernathy Regional Supervisory Inspector U.S. Department of Labor – OSHA 420 Madison Ave., Ste. 600 Toledo,
OH 43604 Abernathy.Richard@dol.gov
Re: Retaliation threats by City of Cleveland and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, related to Case No. #EWB15580 that
chill potential for safety-violation reports
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Dear federal officials responsible for the traveling public’s safety:
I write on behalf of Abdul-Malik Ali to provide additional information about the climate of fear Cleveland Hopkins International
Airport management has created. The airport’s conduct is having a chilling effect on the potential for additional safety
violations being brought to public attention.
On or about January 19, 2017, following a meeting with top mayoral aides and with the new Director of Port Control Robert
Kennedy, Robert Henderson—the current airfield-maintenance manager at Hopkins—addressed all field-maintenance
staff. Mr. Henderson threatened those employees with retaliation if they publicly disclose any additional safety violations.
The enclosed recording of Henderson’s remarks captures the retaliatory threat in reference to our January 18, 2017 complaint
If anybody is caught associating with anything like that, the penalties will be great. So I’m calling y’all together
now. Let’s go ahead and put it out there; let’s talk about it right now. So we can get it out of the way. Because
if anyone is caught sitting there having a sideline conversations about this, or with [unintelligible] did to somebody else,
or let me send it to this friend or let me do that, that could connect you with something that’s, that’s frowned
upon in the organization—to take internal stuff and leak it out to the media. So please don’t engage in, in all
that. I’m putting it out right here, right now. It ain’t nothing to whisper about. Ain’t nothing [unintelligible].
Nothin’ going to happen. We goin’ keep on doin’ business.
That’s it. So, if, you are all grown people, you do the choices that you do what you do, but listen don’t get
caught up in, in that. It’s news. It is what it is…
A transcript of the recording is attached for your convenience.
This threat violates the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (Air21) as well as the First
and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. And it serves as evidence that the retaliation against Mr. Ali is part of a
broader custom, policy, and practice of retaliation by the City of Cleveland that must be stopped.
As you know, Mr. Ali was for 15 years the manager of airfield maintenance at Hopkins. On February 18, 2015, he was demoted
after reporting blatant safety violations to the FAA, case #EWB15580. The FAA found Mr. Ali’s safety concerns “substantiated.”
(See FAA letter to Mr. Ali dated March 27, 2015 enclosed with my January 18, 2017 letter to you.)
OSHA has been investigating Mr. Ali’s retaliation for nearly two years. Mr. Ali spends his days in a veritable mop closet
at Hopkins, from which he discharges the
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humiliating task of counting trash levels in airport dumpsters for a daily report. On January 18, 2017, we reported additional
safety violations to you on Mr. Ali’s behalf.
As I explained in my January 18 letter, the intensifying retaliatory climate at Hopkins is chilling public employees’
willingness to come forward and report safety and retaliation violations to you, as is their right, and as the law encourages.
Many of these distressed employees have been in touch with us—as is their right—and are praying that you will
take swift action. If Director Kennedy thinks he can ignore the ongoing retaliation against Mr. Ali without addressing it,
then this in effect means that he is succeeding in engaging in and indeed leading it. In purportedly seeking to address internally
the concerns raised in our January 18 letter, Director Kennedy has failed to seek input from the one person with the most
knowledge and experience about airfield maintenance at Hopkins—Mr. Ali. That speaks volumes.
We request your acknowledgement of this and our January 18 correspondence.
Enclosures (January 19, 2017 Henderson recording and transcript)
Cc: Barbara Langhenry, Esq., Director of Law, City of Cleveland (via email) Jonathan McGory, Esq. (via email