A full panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a whistleblower’s retaliation suit, in John A. Watson v. Air Methods Corporation, No. 15-1900 (8th Cir. Aug. 31, 2017).The whistleblower, John Watson, worked as a flight paramedic for the company, which operates flights and provides in-flight medical care for patients being transported to hospitals. During his employment between July 2013 and May 2014, Watson claims he saw various violations of federal aviation safety regulations, such as a pilot making cellphone videos in flight, and another pilot trying to take off with frost and ice accumulated on the airplane. When Watson reported his concerns to company management, he alleges that their response was to suspend, and then to fire him. Watson then sued the company in Missouri state court for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The company removed the case to federal court based on diversity of citizenship, and later sought to have it dismissed on the ground that Watson’s state law claims were preempted by federal law.
The district court agreed with the company and dismissed Watson’s retaliation claims as preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act, a relevant federal law. The Airline Deregulation Act contains an express preemption provision providing that a state may not enforce a law or other provision “having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart.” In reversing the lower court, the Eighth Circuit held that the Airline Deregulation Act did not preempt the Missouri wrongful discharge claims because the effect the Missouri claims would have on the company’s operations was too tenuous and remote to fall within the federal law’s preemption provision.