Whistleblower of Boeing supplier dies from sudden infection, family says

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – A Kansas whistleblower who raised concerns about the Boeing 737 Max while working for Spirit Aerosystems, a supplier for the airline, has died.

Family members said Joshua Dean died from a sudden infection, KWCH reports.

Dean filed a complaint with the FAA alleging misconduct by managers on the 737 production line.

He later claimed Spirit fired him in retaliation.

Dean raised the complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor in August 2023, saying he was fired in late April or early May 2023 in retaliation for raising the safety concerns in October 2022.

The complaint was initially dismissed as untimely when it was filed until Dean filed an appeal and the case was redocketed in October 2023.

The last update from the Department of Justice on Dec. 19, 2023, said the case had been assigned to an administrative law judge.

Dean’s attorney Brian Knowles called Dean’s death a loss to the aviation community.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Josh and his family,” Knowles said. “Josh’s passing is a loss to the aviation community and the flying public. He possessed tremendous courage to stand up for what he felt was true and right and raised quality and safety issues. Aviation companies should encourage and incentivize those that do raise these concerns. Otherwise, safety and quality are truly not these companies’ top priorities.”

Spirit AeroSystems makes the fuselage, or the aircraft main body, on Boeing’s 737 Max jet, including the one that suffered a door-panel blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

The company in late January notified Boeing of a “non-conformity” after an employee told his manager that two holes may not have been drilled to specifications, KWCH reported.

Dean is the second whistleblower connected to Boeing to die this year.

John Barnett was found dead in his truck outside a Charleston, South Carolina hotel on March 11 from “what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the Charleston County Coroner’s Office said.

Barnett, who was also represented by Knowles, was a 32-year employee for the aviation giant before retiring in 2017.

Barnett raised concerns about the company’s production standards on the North Charleston-built 787 Dreamliner.

John Barnett. who worked for Boeing for 32 years, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging safety concerns. (Netflix | Netflix via MGN)

He reportedly alerted managers about the company using sub-standard parts and oxygen systems with serious problems on several occasions. Those managers allegedly took no action to fix the issues and Boeing denied Barnett’s claims, the BBC reported.

Barnett was in the midst of giving evidence in a whistleblower lawsuit against Boeing.

Barnett filed a complaint on Jan. 16, 2017, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging Boeing retaliated against him in violation of the Employee Protection Provisions Act.

Barnett claims Boeing subjected him to a hostile work environment for engaging in whistleblower-protected activity, which caused severe stress that led Barnett to take medical leave and early retirement.

Boeing tried to dismiss Barnett’s claims, arguing he did not present facts sufficient to prove his claims. However, the judge denied Boeing’s partial motion to dismiss on March 31, 2022.

On Nov. 14, 2023, Barnett filed a motion to compel discovery, a move to ask the court to enforce a request for information relevant to a case.

Court documents state Boeing’s efforts to identify records of other complaints made by other employees at the South Carolina location of adverse actions taken in response to reports of safety or quality violations are woefully lacking. The judge adds that Boeing has had the requests for over a year.

The judge ruled on Dec. 21, 2023, that Boeing must produce the documents sought by Barnett.

The discovery phase was set to be completed by March 30 with a formal hearing set to take place during the week of June 24, documents from the Department of Labor state.

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