Cleveland ordered to reinstate airport whistleblower; pay damages and attorney’s fees

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Federal officials have ordered Cleveland to reinstate airport whistleblower Abdul-Malik Ali, who was demoted after raising questions about staffing and safety at Hopkins International Airport.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said the city must pay Ali $20, 600 for lost income and pain and suffering. The city must also pay $75,198 for Ali’s attorney’s fees. Ali was represented by Cleveland lawyer Subodh Chandra.

OSHA also ordered that Ali be reinstated to his former position of manager of field maintenance and all records of discipline related to the case be expunged.

Ali was investigated and demoted in 2015 after raising concerns about the airport’s snow removal plan.

OSHA issued a preliminary ruling earlier this year indicating Ali would likely prevail in his complaint.

Ali’s complaint to the Department of Labor in 2015 stated that in February of that year, he told the FAA that his crews had been understaffed in violation of an agreement the airport had reached with the FAA three months earlier, spelling out how many field maintenance employees must be on duty to combat snow and ice.

The following day, then-Airport Director Ricky Smith removed Ali from his 15-year post as manager of field maintenance.

Ali said he was transferred to the job of “assistant to the deputy commissioner,” instructed to clear out his office, moved to what he called a “mop closet” behind the cab booking stand on the terminal baggage level at Hopkins and given “make-work” assignments such as counting trashcans.

The city responded by pointing out that Smith, at the time, was unaware of what Ali had told the FAA, and that Ali’s conversation with the inspector was not the reason for his demotion.

Instead, the city asserted, Smith reassigned Ali because of a long history of complaints that he was a poor manager and because of an incident – coincidentally on the day Ali spoke with the FAA inspector — in which Ali was “too intoxicated to come into…

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