High court reinstates fired state NDOT pilot

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The Nevada Supreme Court ordered reinstatement Wednesday for a state pilot who had been fired by the Nevada Department of Transportation.

The order reverses a District Court decision by Todd Russell.

NDOT officials terminated James Richardson for failing to "timely report an engine overspeed incident in one of Nevada's state planes." The incident violated state administrative code, NDOT policy and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

The hearing officer ruled that Richardson's failure to immediately report the engine incident "showed a serious lack of judgment and justified severe discipline." But he ruled that NDOT should instead have applied progressive discipline since Richardson had no other disciplinary reports in his record. The hearing officer recommended a demotion but amended his ruling to say Richardson's demotion must allow him to remain a pilot.

Russell disagreed and reversed the hearing officer, reinstating the termination.

The high court panel of Michael Cherry, Mark Gibbons and Kris Pickering disagreed, pointing out that NDOT didn't offer expert proof of the safety threat resulting from that violation, instead relying on the FAA warning Richardson received.

"But the FAA declined to treat the infraction as meriting discipline beyond making the infraction a matter of record for two years," the order states, adding that doesn't establish there was a serious threat to safety caused by what Richardson did.

The order also points out that, while NDOT terminated Richardson for a single safety violation, Richardson's immediate superior was not terminated despite having several violations including taking off overweight limits, flying a state plane with dangerously low fuel and allowing a 14-year-old boy to take the controls.


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