Virgin Atlantic pilot’s unfair dismissal claim reinstated

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An airline pilot who allegedly “took 40 winks” in the flight deck is hoping to win £1.7 million in compensation from Virgin Atlantic Airways, which he claims unfairly dismissed him.

Mike Lawson claimed that the company targeted him following rumours that he had fallen asleep while his co-pilots were away from the flight deck on a flight from Hong Kong to London in September 2015.

He was stood down from flying from 15 October to 3 November 2015, but claimed that he was not told he had done anything wrong.

He was later dismissed by the company after failing two flight simulation tests in May 2016. Lawson argued that the assessor had been aggressive and his employer had “rigged” the simulation because it had been “out to get him”.

In an employment tribunal decision from January 2019, which considered whether Lawson had a disability and whether he could bring a claim for disability discrimination against Virgin Atlantic, the judge noted that the stress and anxiety Lawson had been experiencing after the rumours emerged had worsened before the flight simulation test.

The airline claimed that Lawson had been dismissed because he failed the simulation test.

Employment judge Martin found that Lawson was not disabled under the Equality Act 2010 as his symptoms were considered “a reaction to adverse circumstances, namely the incident on the Hong Kong flight and its ramifications”.

The judge found Lawson could not bring a claim for disability discrimination. However, his unfair dismissal case was reinstated by Judge Matthew Gullick at an appeal in London last week.

Judge Gullick said the gossip about Lawson was “untrue, but his colleagues were reluctant to work with him”. The case will be reheard at a later date.

Virgin Atlantic has been contacted for comment.

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