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An Alameda County Superior Court jury handed out a $12.6 million verdict last week to a pilot who said he was fired by a charter airline for complaining about safety violations. It’s among the five biggest plaintiff verdicts for an employment case in California this year, according to VerdictSearch, a Recorder affiliate. The plaintiff, 53-year-old Randall Otto, alleged that his termination in September 2003, after two years with North American Airlines, was payback for his complaints a month earlier that the airline had sent him up on a Boeing 757 with a known flight control problem. “I think he was relegated to being just another loud, obnoxious employee, rather than a trusted, loyal captain” with more than 20 years of flying experience, said Otto’s trial lawyer, Patrick Bailey of Santa Monica’s Bailey & Partners. The defense painted a much different picture, asserting in court papers that the airline had terminated Otto for “his continued abusive behavior toward co-workers and poor pilot decisions.” “Safety is, of course, North American’s overriding concern,” and the airline takes any safety issues very seriously, said J. Scott Scheper of San Diego’s Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek. In trial documents, the airline said the company expected Otto to document problems with the plane, but his superiors were alarmed by his behavior to his co-workers. “Otto’s message was not the problem; but his delivery was,” North American’s lawyers wrote in a brief. Among other examples in its brief, the airline claims that after complaining to mechanics once his plane landed, Otto got on his cell phone and called headquarters on the East Coast, where it was past 2 a.m., and demanded to speak to his superiors, one of whom was woken up at home as a result. Opening statements before Judge Robert Freedman began Nov. 14, and the case concluded with a bifurcated jury verdict about a month later. The jury first concluded that Otto’s complaints about safety and maintenance were “a motivating reason” behind the company’s decision to fire him, and counted his economic and noneconomic losses at a combined $5.6 million. In a second verdict form, delivered on Wednesday, the jury awarded another $7 million in punitive damages. In the end, Bailey said, the most powerful evidence for his client was probably the pages from the airline’s maintenance log that he projected for the jury in “full-wall size,” along with expert testimony. Scheper, the defense attorney, said that North American plans to pursue post-trial and appellate review.

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