On March 28, 2014, the Ninth Circuit strengthened its Federal Aviation Act (the “Act”) preemption jurisprudence, holding that state law claims for retaliation and constructive termination are preempted under the Act when they require “the fact finder to intrude upon the federally occupied field of aviation safety[.]” Ventress v. Japan Airlines, No. 12-15066 (9th Cir. 2014). Ventress thus provides another useful tool for airlines defending state-law tort claims that touch upon aviation safety.
Pro se plaintiff Martin Ventress, a former flight engineer, brought statutory and common law retaliation and constructive discharge claims against defendant Japan Airlines (JAL) after Japanese psychiatrists deemed him “medically disqualified” to fly. Ventress alleged that JAL retaliated against him for reporting safety concerns, and constructively terminated him for reasons related to his medical and mental fitness. Specifically, he alleged that JAL subjected him to unnecessary psychiatric evaluations and prevented him from working after he raised safety concerns regarding a specific pilot’s medical fitness to operate an aircraft during a June 2001 flight. One of JAL’s defenses to Ventress’s claims was that JAL had a legitimate business reason for suspending Ventress’s ability to fly: Ventress was medically disqualified under applicable regulations.
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