Allegiant pilot suing airline for wrongful termination

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An Allegiant Air pilot fired after deciding to evacuate an aircraft in June is suing the airline, accusing the company of wrongful termination and defamation.

Allegiant fired Captain Jason Kinzer in July after the pilot evacuated passengers on the Tarmac at St. Pete-Clearwater Airport on June 8. The plane returned to the ground after reports of smoke in the cabin, according to the lawsuit filed by Kinzer. Fearing there was imminent threat of a fire, Kinzer had passengers and crew evacuate via Allegiant flight 864's emergency slides.

According to Kinzer's termination letter, provided by his attorney, Allegiant fired the pilot after it ruled the evacaution "entirely unwarranted." The letter says Kinzer compromised the safety of his crew and passengers and led directly to several injuries. Yet air traffic control recordings confirm that even ground crews reported seeing smoke coming from one of the plane's engines.

The lawsuit alleges Allegiant fired Kinzer because he didn't put company profits before passenger safety. Kinzer's lawyer Mike Pangia believes the airline was upset with the cost of the evacuation and embarrassed by the spectacle it caused, given the climate of increased scrutiny that came with a litany of incidents and emergency landings involving the airline over the summer.

"What they are doing is not only hurting Captain Kinzer in his career, but they're setting a tone in that airline that the company and the employees better put profit before above safety in making their decisions," said Pangia.

Pangia says Kinzer was just doing his job to protect the lives of the passengers on board.

"He did what he was trained to do, and that is order an evacuation," said Pangia.

Kinzer is seeking in excess of $30,000 in damages, He also claims the airline defamed him by sharing his termination letter and personnel file with third parties, effectively blackballing him from the airline industry.

Allegiant will not comment on the pending litigation.

The airline did release a statement, saying in part, "any and every decision about our flight crews is made first and foremost with the safety of Allegiant's passengers in mind. While we are not able to comment on specific employment matters or lawsuits at this time, we never compromise on our commitment to safety. We take any employee termination with great seriousness and ensure that a thorough investigation, collecting facts from all stakeholders, is conducted before any decision is made."