Whistleblower sues Evergreen Helicopters
A San Diego man who worked for Evergreen Helicopters Inc. in Afghanistan is suing the company, along with several sister companies, alleging it committed safety violations that endangered employees and the fired him when he raised the issue.
William John Frost initially filed suit in June in San Diego County. Evergreen had the case moved under federal jurisdiction, and it was assigned earlier this month to the U.S. District Court in Oregon.
Evergreen has filed a response denying all Frost’s allegations.
Frost is suing Evergreen Helicopters Inc., Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska Inc., Evergreen Aviation Ground Logistics Enterprises Inc. and their parent, Evergreen International Aviation Inc., along with 20 unnamed parties.
He is alleging breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, wrongful termination in violation of public policy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He did not place a dollar value on his claim, but in their motion to move the case to federal court, Evergreen attorneys stipulated that it would exceed $75,000.
“It is more likely than not that he will seek damages for both front and back pay, as well as the value of past and future benefits,” they wrote. “During the first eight months of plaintiff’s employment in 2011, his wages alone were $56,225 (reflecting estimated annual wages of $84,000).”
In addition, they noted, he is seeking punitive damages in an unspecified amount.
Frost was hired in December 2010. He was sent to Afghanistan in February 2011 as a cargo engineer and later promoted to operations manager.
Throughout the mission, Evergreen exposed the crews to risk, he alleged in his lawsuit. He said they were operating two helicopters originally, until one was shot down by a rocket, with no operations personnel and only one mechanic.
After losing the one to hostile fire, he said, Evergreen kept the other in the air from sunrise to sunset. Yet during one five day period, the company had no qualified mechanic on site, he said.
“This was a serious safety issue/violation,” he alleged in the suit. “However, defendants prohibited discussion about the matter.
“Moreover, there was an ongoing dispute between maintenance and AHI as to whether or not all of the mechanics were qualified at night. At some point, AHI directed a lead mechanic to remove all operations records from the operations office in the middle of the night in order to prevent the Defense Contract Management Agency representative from being able to check the mechanics’ qualifications.”
At one point, Frost said, one of the pilots quit because the company failed to provide body armor or personal weapons.
Frost returned to Afghanistan in May, according to the suit, and discovered Evergreen was now using a different aircraft, the N502FS.
It went on to say, “Frost discovered that the N502FS had two bad engines that could have killed the crew if they had not been discovered. This safety violation should have been detected before the aircraft arrived. It was supposed to have cleared inspection prior to leaving the United States.”
When he reported the problem, the lawsuit stated, he “had to fight with management to even get the two faulty engines replaced.”
Over the next several months, the suit alleged, the company failed to supply adequate oxygen for the flight crews, failed to supply either body armor, aircraft armor or personal weapons, and for more than a month, kept no meaninful aircraft maintenance records on which to base periodic inspections.
In July, another aircraft arrived, “which defendants promised was fully mission-capable and safe to fly,” the lawsuit stated. But it said, “In fact, the aircraft had numerous mechanical issues, some of which plaintiff and others believed were life-threatening.”
According to the suit, “When Frost informed management of these safety issues by teleconference, ... became extremely hostile and threatening, insisting that they move on and just fly the aircraft.”
When Frost e-mailed superiors about the problems, the suit alleged, he was warned to be careful.
A few days later, the suit stated, “EHI Vice President of Global Operations … informed Frost that he was not happy with Frost for having sent the safety e-mail. Frost was basically told that if he didn’t stop complaining about the safety violations, he would lose his job.”
According to the suit:
In September, Frost was scheduled for a third rotation in Afghanistan. He and other members of the team were told that the company’s contract with the U.S. Government was not being renewed, but they would be offered other positions.
The promise was repeated several more times. But in October, “Frost was informed that defendants no longer had a position available for him.”
The suit concludes, “As further evidence of retaliation, defendants falsely rated plaintiff’s conduct as ‘Fair’ on his separation evaluation, after he had consistently received near-perfect performance reviews throughout his employment.”
Evergreen said in its response that it was prepared to fully rebut the allegations.