A disgruntled airplane pilot sued the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) seeking to have his pilot’s license reinstated. The FAA terminated his license after the pilot failed a drug test. The pilot claimed that there was insufficient evidence to support his termination. The suit made its way to a federal appeals court after an administrative hearing and the National Transportation Safety Board affirmed the FAA’s decision. The federal court, I’m glad to say, upheld the termination decision, marking a sad day for crack-smoking employees in highly safety-sensitive jobs.
Mark Toth of the Manpower Employment Blog has a great summary of the case in his post, Court Upholds Termination of Crack-Smoking Pilot:
- February 15: Pilot Charles Gabbard smoked crack cocaine.
- February 16: Gabbard submitted to a random drug test.
- February 17: Gabbard piloted a chartered jet.
- February 21: Gabbard’s test results show a cocaine metabolite level seven times higher than the regulatory limit. (Cocaine takes 24-48 hours to clear the system.)
In April 2007, the FAA terminated Gabbard’s pilot’s license based on the positive drug test and the agency’s conclusion that he had piloted the February 17 flight “while having a prohibited drug, cocaine in [his] system.”
Drug-Free Friendly Skies: Too Much to Ask?
The Sixth Circuit concluded that there was sufficient evidence to find that Gabbard indeed had taken drugs prior to flying. Given the window of time for the drug test to show a positive result, he had smoked crack no more than 42-44 hours before takeoff.
Mark Toth points out Gabbard’s creative (i.e., ludicrous) arguments:
(1) he may have smoked a cigarette that, unbeknownst to him, was laced with crack;
(2) the cocaine may have gotten into his system due to plastic surgery; or
(3) perhaps he inhaled the fumes of crack cocaine that just happened to waft by.
But the Sixth Circuit didn’t buy it. What mattered was that, regardless of how he intentionally or accidentally ingested the drug, he should have notified his employer immediately, rather than preparing for takeoff as usual.
One final note about the case. Gabbard also tried to argue that he’d been a victim of incompetent representation by his lawyer at the administrative hearing. Needless to say, the court disregarded the contention, holding that adequate representation is an issue for the criminal courts. Since that’s the case, given the circumstances, Mr. Gabbard may be able to reuse that argument sometime in the not-so-distant future when he likely finds himself before a criminal court. And, hopefully for him, his lawyer will not have “accidentally” ingested an illegal narcotic prior before representing Gabbard in any legal proceedings, criminal or otherwise.