Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
Chandra Law obtains $2,000,750 jury verdict for former police chief LaMont Lockhart against the...
December 15, 2008
Monday, January 22, 2024
CHICAGO, IL – On January 19, 2024, the U.S. Secretary of Labor—following a multiyear investigation—issued formal findings that Chicago’s Department of Aviation retaliated against a whistleblower who reported to both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Chicago Inspector General (IG) the falsification of runway conditions at Chicago-Midway International Airport (MDW). Michael Conway, a senior operations supervisor at Midway, made these reports after his objections to senior executives about the practices went unheeded.
The Secretary found Chicago officials’ retaliation violated the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, known as Air21 (14 U.S.C. § 42121)—and ordered Chicago to promote Conway and pay him damages and attorney fees, among other items of relief.
In September 2018, Conway reported to both the FAA and Chicago's Office of Inspector General that Costas Simos, then a deputy aviation commissioner, had, in February 2018, ordered him to report as dry runway conditions that were wet. Conway had also witnessed other operations personnel being ordered to make similar misrepresentations.
On October 16, 2018, Conway filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) alleging that he was being retaliated against for:
Conway’s complaint to Chicago’s IG included an incident on February 17, 2018, when Midway’s deputy operations commissioner had ordered Conway to report wet runways as “dry” in the FAA’s NOTAM system following a Southwest Airlines request. This order came, the complaint alleged, despite Conway’s telling the commissioner in reference to particular runways: “31 center is still wet. I mean, my brakes are coming on and 22 left is wet from the approach all the way to 31 left with deicer.”
Wet runways can lead to serious, even calamitous airline accidents, particularly on runways that are short like those at Midway.
In its July 2020, second quarterly report, the IG reported on its investigation—confirming Conway’s account. The IG recommended the deputy commissioner be fired and placed on the city’s “do not hire” list.
News outlets reported on this “eye-popping story even by Chicago standards.” City official falsified Midway flight conditions for airline, IG charges, Greg Hinz, Crain’s Chicago Business, July 16, 2020 (“Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson disclosed today that a senior Department of Aviation official falsified data on flight conditions at Midway Airport to help an airline—potentially jeopardizing the safety of those arriving on flights.”); CDA commissioner retired after falsifying Midway runway conditions, Eric Horng, ABC7 Chicago, Eyewitness News, July 16, 2020; City official falsified Midway flight conditions for airline, Former no. 2 official at midway airport accused of violating ‘crucial federal safety protocols,’ Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun Times, July 16, 2920.
Upon completing a multiyear investigation under Air21, the U.S. Secretary of Labor found that Chicago aviation-department management knew of Conway’s reports when it began retaliating against him:
The Secretary of Labor ordered Chicago to afford relief to Conway. The Secretary ordered the Chicago to
Within 30 days of the order, Chicago may appeal the Secretary’s findings and order to an administrative law judge.
Conway’s lead counsel, Subodh Chandra, said, “The traveling public deserves public servants like Michael Conway, who fight to ensure our safety. Unfortunately, Mike paid a high price in his career for speaking up against wrongdoing—and this federal ruling is, at long last, a step toward making things right. As three government agencies—Chicago’s Inspector General, the FAA, and now the U.S. Department of Labor—have found, Mike did what was right.”
“One would hope that some responsible, senior Chicago official will stop the ongoing retaliation, hold current and former officials responsible, and make things right instead of senselessly fighting in perpetuity,” Chandra added.
Chicago has been on notice by the Department of Labor since May 17, 2023 that the Secretary would rule against it. That’s when OSHA issued preliminary findings against the city. Yet Chicago officials have still not stopped the ongoing retaliation and career derailment Conway says he is experiencing.
A separate suit by Conway against the City of Chicago and two former deputy commissioners for aviation, for First Amendment retaliation and violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, remains pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. That case, entitled Michael Conway v. City of Chicago, Costas Simos, and Erin O’Donnell, Case No. 20-cv-04966, is pending before U.S. District Judge Jeremy C. Daniel. The complaint is available here.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s ruling for Conway may be found here.
Subodh Chandra, Donald Screen, and Michael Halberstam of The Chandra Law Firm LLC in Cleveland, and Jamie S. Franklin of The Franklin Law Firm in Chicago, represent Conway.
The Chandra Law Firm previously represented Abdul-Malik Ali, a whistleblower at Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport, under similar circumstances. The firm pursued both a successful Air21 complaint before OSHA and federal First Amendment–retaliation litigation. Those matters resulted in OSHA awards and a settlement of First Amendment–retaliation claims, plus substantial penalties by the FAA against the city of Cleveland.
 The FAA’s NOTAM or “Notices to Airmen” system provides pilots, dispatchers, and air-traffic controllers with most up-to-date runway conditions.
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