(CN) – Air Wisconsin is not immune from a pilot’s defamation lawsuit after an employee told transportation safety officials that the pilot was unstable and might be armed, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled, upholding a $1.2 million judgment against the airline.
William Hoeper lost his job at Air Wisconsin after he failed three flight-simulator tests and angrily terminated a fourth attempt.
The airline’s fleet manager, Patrick Doyle, told Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) officials that he was concerned about Hoeper’s mental stability and the whereabouts of the firearm that Hoeper was allowed to carry onto planes as a federal flight deck officer.
Hoeper was removed from the plane by armed guards and interrogated by TSA agents before he was released.
He sued the company for defamation and won more than $1.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The appeals court affirmed the decision, ruling that Air Wisconsin was not immune under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act.
“We conclude that the trial court properly submitted the ATSA immunity issue to the jury; the record supports the jury’s rejection of immunity, the employee’s statements to TSA were not protected opinions because they contained provably false negative connotations; … the record includes clear and convincing evidence that the employee acted with actual malice; and Hoeper did not preserve his claims for prejudgment interest under Virginia law,” Judge Webb wrote.