Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Flight attendant offered impassioned defense of fired Allegiant Air pilot

The wrongful termination lawsuit filed by an Allegiant Air pilot fired for making an emergency landing at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport in 2015 has turned into a bitterly contested match as it marches toward a July 31 trial date in Nevada.

The legal battle includes accusations of documents withheld in discovery, questions about the memory of the airline's CEO and a request for a battery of personality tests of the pilot, which a judge denied.

The Las Vegas-based airline has forced the testimony of pilot Jason Kinzer's 76-year-old mother even as Allegiant CEO Maurice J. Gallagher Jr. has so far fought successfully to prevent his own testimony, arguing he knows nothing of relevance about Kinzer's firing.

That led Kinzer's attorneys to argue recently in a motion, "Mr. Gallagher's purported total amnesia is facially improbable."

Case in point, they argue: flight attendant Natalee Negron's impassioned email to Gallagher shortly after she learned Kinzer had been dismissed.

"I feel as though safety definitely was the deciding factor to evacuate that day," Negron, who was on the flight, told Gallagher in the email. "But I honestly just felt a need to express that a Captain that had safety in the front of his mind is no longer with the Company. I truly hope that this decision was made with the utmost caution and consideration of the facts."

Gallagher forwarded the email to his chief operating officer and vice president of in-flight services with a note: "please talk to me."

The airline's chief said in court papers he has no memory of Negron's email nor of forwarding it to several of his top deputies. And defense attorneys say the airline withheld the email during discovery in the case until recent weeks. That is a claim denied by Allegiant.

For a case that hinges on Kinzer's decision-making, the flight attendant's defense of the pilot could prove critical at trial.

Kinzer, a former St. Petersburg resident who was then 43, was flying Flight 864 that departed the Pinellas County airport with 141 passengers on June 8, 2015, bound for Hagerstown, Md., when flight attendants reported an acrid odor in the cabin not long after takeoff. The pilot declared an emergency and returned to the airport.

Previous coverage: Suit says Allegiant improperly fired pilot who evacuated plane after emergency landing

Kinzer and his co-pilot were told by someone in airport fire rescue upon landing, "I'm showing smoke on the No. 1 engine."

But a recording of radio communications reflected confusion on the ground with rescue personnel who did not immediately answer questions from the cockpit, something Kinzer said late played into his decision to evacuate.

Evacuation chutes were deployed. Eight people suffered minor injuries in the evacuation, the most-serious injury being a broken wrist.

The landing generated considerable media attention, and Allegiant officials later fired Kinzer after saying there was nothing wrong with the plane and the evacuation was unnecessary. The Allegiant pilots union said the firing was about Allegiant management sending a warning that the company would not brook being embarrassed during contentious negotiations for a contract then underway.

It also was one in a series of emergency landings in 2015 and after that caused concerns about the budget airline's safety record.

Previous coverage: Thousands of people flew Allegiant last year thinking their planes wouldn't fail in the air

Allegiant officials and Kinzer's attorney said they could not comment on pending litigation.

Negron, who also could not be reached to comment, told Gallagher in an Aug. 10, 2015 email that Kinzer's dismissal "has been weighing heavily on me."

An Allegiant employee for more than seven years when she wrote the message, Negron had served as a stations corporate instructor and said she loved working at Allegiant. "I've been nothing but grateful for this company," she said.

But she told Gallagher bluntly, "I just feel this undying urge to reach out to you on the topic of what I feel to be the wrongful termination of a Captain."

"All other parties that were involved that day were returned to duty with no additional training, which makes me wonder what the Captain did that was so wrong he received the harshest punishment, especially hearing from Flight Ops management that the evacuation went as trained," her email said.

Negron blamed miscommunication by rescue personnel on the ground for confusion that led to the evacuation.

"I truly hope I'm not stepping out of place with this email," she concluded. "Forgive me if I can."

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

Comments
Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists are calling for Apple, Amazon, Google and other streaming companies to drop the National Rifle Association’s digital TV channel in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida school last week, putting the companies in the delicate position o...
Published: 02/24/18
Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

The head of the Pinellas and Hillsborough career centers under multiple investigations into the way they report job placement figures says he has no intention of stepping down.That’s unless he is paid five months severance.In a letter from his attorn...
Published: 02/23/18
Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

Terminally ill Valrico man dies a month after marrying junior high sweetheart

VALRICO — During his final few days, 19-year-old Dustin Snyder moved to a hospice house, surrounded himself with belongings from home, swam in a pool and visited the beach in Ruskin.Wherever he went, the terminally ill Valrico man had family beside h...
Published: 02/23/18
Tampa Downtown Partnership gets initial city okay to expand north

Tampa Downtown Partnership gets initial city okay to expand north

TAMPA — The Downtowner may be heading to Tampa Heights — but not until Oct. 1.That’s because the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership this week won initial City Council approval to expand into Tampa Heights."Tampa Heights is becoming an important gat...
Published: 02/23/18

Tampa lawyer gets 27 months in federal prison for insider trading

Tampa lawyer Walter "Chet’’ Little was sentenced this week to 27 months in federal prison for engaging in an insider trading scheme that reaped him and a friend profits totaling nearly $1 million.According to federal authorities, Little accessed comp...
Published: 02/23/18
More companies are cutting ties with gun lobby as #BoycottNRA movement gains steam

More companies are cutting ties with gun lobby as #BoycottNRA movement gains steam

Three major companies — Enterprise Holdings, First National Bank of Omaha, and the cybersecurity giant Symantec — have ended co-branding partnerships with the National Rifle Association as a #BoycottNRA social media movement picks up steam.Enterprise...
Published: 02/23/18
Citi to refund $330 Million to credit card customers it overcharged

Citi to refund $330 Million to credit card customers it overcharged

Citigroup is preparing to issue $330 million in refunds after the bank discovered it had overcharged nearly 2 million credit card customers on their annual interest rates, a spokeswoman said Friday.The bank, which has about 150 million credit card ac...
Published: 02/23/18
Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

Girl Scouts camp sold to member of Tampa’s Lykes family

ODESSA — The 63-year-old lakeside summer camp had no air conditioning or electricity. Cabin floors were often covered in grime, and cobwebs clung to the windows.But under new ownership, the 18.6 acres of Florida woods known as Camp Scoutcrest to memb...
Published: 02/23/18
BB&T cites ‘technical issue’ in outage affecting customers

BB&T cites ‘technical issue’ in outage affecting customers

Millions of BB&T customers were unable to access their accounts after a service outage which the bank blames on an equipment malfunction. The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based bank posted a statement on its Twitter page saying the problem persiste...
Published: 02/23/18
Realtors are ‘every 10 feet’ in Florida but more want in the business

Realtors are ‘every 10 feet’ in Florida but more want in the business

ST. PETERSBURG — Tired of working as a yacht captain, Pancho Jiminez decided to get into real estate even though he knows it’s a highly competitive field in Florida."Realtors are every 10 feet around here," he says.Nonetheless, Jiminez is among 30 st...
Published: 02/23/18