Horizon balks at rehiring pilot after pot test

SEATTLE — Horizon Air wants a judge to stop a pilot who was fired for using marijuana from returning to the cockpit, a news website said.

The Seattle-based airline fired pilot Brian Milam after he failed a random drug test in November 2011 and he acknowledged smoking to cope with back pain and other issues, seattlepi.com reported Monday (http://bit.ly/10bbkWh ).

The firing was challenged by the Airline Professionals Association and an arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor, saying Horizon failed to fully review Milam’s record before firing him.

Horizon filed a lawsuit last week in federal court, asking the judge to throw out the arbitrator’s ruling.

“Horizon is not willing to place an impaired pilot back in the cockpit,” said Mark Hutcheson, an attorney representing Horizon. “Doing so would violate federal law and contravene a well-settled public policy prohibiting a pilot from flying while using drugs.”

Milam was the first Horizon pilot to fail a drug test since the airline began testing in 1989, the lawyer said.

The union was displeased the case has gone to court.

“We are happy with the process that led to the arbitrator’s decision in this case and are extremely disappointed with Horizon Air’s decision to file a lawsuit following the outcome,” APA Teamsters Local 1224 President Daniel C. Wells said in a statement.

The drug test was conducted to meet federal requirements designed to ensure pilots are not abusing alcohol or using drugs illegally. Milam acknowledged the drug test was properly administered and that he had been smoking marijuana, but never on duty or the night before an early shift, the website reported.

Following the drug test, he successfully completed a treatment regime.

In the decision issued in February, arbitrator Cliff Freed found Horizon erred in the way it fired Milam.

The airline’s employment rules allow employees to keep working if a substance abuse counselor agrees and a review of company records shows the worker’s retention is in Horizon’s best interest.

Freed noted Milam’s drug counselor found him fit for work. But, Horizon did not review its own records before firing Milam, the arbitrator said.

Freed ordered that Milam be allowed to return to work.

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