A captain of the Virgin Atlantic who claims to have been unjustly forced to quit his job after rumors circulated that he had “winked” during a long-haul flight asking for compensation of £ 1.7 million.
Mike Lawson, 48, says the airline took action against him following a flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong in September 2015, during which both of his co-pilots fell ill.
Eight hours after the end, Cpt Lawson decided not to have an abortion and instead flew alone, landing safely after one of his colleagues recovered.
Captain Mike Lawson has sued Virgin Atlantic for £ 1.7 million in compensation for a lost career
Later “completely unfounded” rumors circulated, including the fact that he had taken “40 winks” while his colleagues were unwell and far from the flight deck.
Cpt Lawson said that the airline’s inability to publish an accident report meant that it could not defend itself from the rumors.
In the end, he was fired in May 2017, with Virgin citing his inability to pass two flight simulator tests in 2016 as a reason.
He is now suing £ 1.7 million for his dismissal, claiming that the test evaluator was “unnecessarily aggressive” against him because of the airline’s hostile stance following the Hong Kong flight.
He is also advocating discrimination on disability based on the fact that he was mentally ill from stress and anxiety at the time he tested, caused in part by his inability to defend himself from rumors.
Her disability claim was rejected by an employment court in January last year, but was reinstated by Judge Matthew Gullick at the London Employment Appeal Tribunal.
Looking into his case, Judge Gullick stated that “Cpt Lawson’s entire identity was closely tied to being a pilot for Virgin”, having enjoyed a 19-year career with the airline.
The court heard that Cpt Lawson was flying a Virgin plane from Heathrow to Hong Hong in September 2015, when both of his co-pilots became violently ill at the same time, leaving him alone to deal with the jet.
“Mr. Lawson decided to continue the flight instead of landing en route and landed the plane safely in Hong Kong,” said the judge.
‘But he says the incident caused rumors and gossip among his colleagues.
“Such rumors were not true, but his colleagues were reluctant to work with him.”
His employers conducted an investigation into the events during the flight and Mr. Lawson says he started suffering from stress and anxiety shortly thereafter, the judge said.
He was “blocked” by flight duties between October and November 2015, but “was not told that he had done something wrong and was not subject to restrictions.”
The pilot insists that he was forced to leave the company after a flight to Hong Kong in 2015
However, Virgin Atlantic did not publish a report on the investigation, leaving him distressed by anxiety because “he felt he could not defend himself from the rumors”.
“He says he feels stressed and anxious when he learned of the rumors that were often raised, especially at a meeting on October 13, 2015 when he was asked if he had winked while the FO [flight officers] were they off the flight deck? ‘.
“It describes the feeling of being ostracized by his colleagues and becoming increasingly isolated, feeling that his colleagues were avoiding talking to him, fearing any association with him,” said the judge.
‘He felt that in conversations with his flight crew he was criticized, which made him doubt that he was making the right decisions.
“He said he feared going to work knowing that his Hong Kong flight would be brought by colleagues.”
Cpt Lawson, who has since found work with another airline, accuses the unfair dismissal and discrimination on disability, claiming that he was mentally indisposed at the time of the tests and that his bosses should have considered new training and a new test.
“He says the trial was rigged against him because (Virgin Atlantic Airways) decided to get rid of him after the events of September 2015,” said the judge.
However, Virgin claims that Cpt Lawson was legitimately fired and denies his allegations, as well as contesting his claim that he was disabled at the time of rehearsal.
Virgin rejects the pilot’s claims that an expert was “aggressive” towards him during the tests
The airline claims that Cpt Lawson, who lives near Brighton, “overstated” some of his symptoms and that his claims are not “confirmed by medical evidence”.
The case was brought before an employment tribunal in January last year, when his invalidity claim was rejected on the grounds that he was not disabled at the time of the trials.
However, he appealed and in a recent ruling, Judge Gullick quashed the decision and ordered to reinstate his invalidity request and to have heard it in full with the unfair dismissal application.
“The case will be resolved and the court will examine the question of whether Mr. Lawson was a disabled person,” he said.
No date has been set for the return of the case to the labor court.