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Airport whistleblower adds new First Amendment retaliation allegations to lawsuit against Cleveland, airport officials

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Former Cleveland Hopkins International Airport field-maintenance manager Abdul-Malik Ali sought to amend his First-Amendment lawsuit against the City of Cleveland, the new airport director Robert Kennedy, and others to add new retaliation allegations.

In his initial filings, Ali alleged that he was demoted from his management-level position at the Airport within hours after alerting the FAA to the Airport's systematic failure to adequately staff its runway snow-removal and de-icing operations. These failures, Ali alleged, placed the flying public at substantial risk. Since his demotion, according to the complaint, Ali has been performing the same menial tasks―such as counting trashcans―and has been treated like a pariah.

The City has since had the case transferred to federal court. In this, his proposed second amended complaint, Ali recounts additional facts, and describes additional acts of retaliation, some of which occurred as recently as last month. Among the new allegations are the following:

  • At a Cleveland City Council Transportation Committee meeting in September 2015, Council President Kevin Kelley and committee Chairman, Councilman Martin Keane―aware of concerns about the Airport's continuing violations of FAA regulations and of its retaliation against Ali for blowing the whistle―failed to take any action to correct the situation, or even take Mr. Ali's testimony, despite having the authority to do so;
  • The City has purposefully removed Ali's name from two successive revisions to the Department of Port Control's organizational chart, both published in March 2017. Ali's name had prominently appeared in the chart for more than 15 years;
  • Still more recently, the Department's Chief Information Officer formally stripped Ali of one of his few remaining administrative responsibilities―receipt and review of the Airport's "radio reports," i.e., reports concerning Field-Maintenance personnel use of hand-held radio devices.

In a February 2017 preliminary ruling, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined that Ali had "engaged in protected activity on a significant number of occasions over the course of a year and a half when he objected to lack of de-icing chemical acquisitions and lack of available staffing to support the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandated Snow and Ice Control Plan (SICP)" and that there is "reasonable cause" to conclude that the City and Airport have violated federal anti-retaliation laws that apply in the aviation industry. Despite opportunity, the City chose not to respond to OSHA's preliminary ruling, which is therefore expected to become final in the near future.

Subodh Chandra, Ali's lead counsel, said, "Retaliation for the exercise of free speech is unconstitutional, and a particularly grave concern where public safety is concerned. That the defendants would disrespect and wish Mr. Ali out of existence by removing him from the airport's organization charts, as Council continues to look the other way in complicity, is simply unconscionable."

The proposed second amended complaint can be found here.

Ali's suit is captioned Ali v. City of Cleveland et al., Case No. 1:17-cv-00634, and is pending in the United States District Court in Cleveland before Judge Solomon Oliver. In addition to Chandra, Ali is represented by Donald Screen and Marvin Brown of The Chandra Law Firm LLC,

Related Practice Areas
Constitutional LawEmployment RetaliationFirst AmendmentGovernment Ethics, Misconduct, Fraud, & AbuseWhistleblower Actions (False Claims Act)

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