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Pilot Can’t Be Fired for Refusing Alcohol Test

(CN) - A Texas airline pilot should not have been fired for refusing to take an alcohol test without notice, the 5th Circuit ruled. Capt. Ronald McWhirter had problems with alcohol, which led Continental Airlines to test him without warning.

McWhirter said he refused the test in part due to frustration over Continental's failure to promptly inform him of the results of a previous test, which were negative.

The System Board of Adjustment, a body that adjudicates grievances between Continental and the pilots' union, ruled that McWhirter's reasoning was valid, and that he should be reinstated.

The district court reversed the decision, but Judge Weiner of the federal appeals court in New Orleans upheld the board's decision, citing the lack of clarity in the collective bargaining agreement.

"Sub-parts 8(A) and 8(B), and the relationship between them, admit ambiguity and multiple interpretations," Weiner wrote. "As such, the SBA was free to choose among arguable constructions of them."

Also, the safety of the public was not at issue because McWhirter was on non-flying status due to his hypertension disability.

"Even if we assume that McWhirter had been drinking when he refused the no-notice test," Weiner added, "there is absolutely no evidence that he was discharged for drinking while engaged in a safety-sensitive task."

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