Biographical Questions Forced Top ATC Candidates Out of FAA Hiring Pool

“The number of different high school sports I participated in.” 

“The age at which I first started to earn money (other than an allowance).” 

Strange questions to ask would-be air traffic controllers. Yet those questions and others were ones the Federal Aviation Administration asked potential air traffic controllers to answer as part of a new hiring system in 2013.  

The agency scrapped a skills-based test and instituted a biographical questionnaire which the FAA said was designed to attract more minorities. That change prevented top ATC candidates like Andrew Brigida from becoming ATCs.  

Andrew Brigida with MSLF General Counsel Zhonette Brown

Andrew graduated from Arizona State University’s Collegiate Training Initiative – a partnership program with the FAA which had previously been used to train and select the most qualified applicants. 

He even earned a top score of 100% on the Air Traffic Control Selection and Training examination and was briefly on the preferred hired list … until the federal agency changed the rules.  

When Andrew tried again to become an air traffic controller under the new rules he “failed” the biographical questionnaire. He didn’t fit the ethnic profile the FAA was seeking under the Obama administration. 

“Air traffic controllers play a critical role in safe air travel,” said MSLF general counsel, Zhonette Brown. “By introducing questions of ethnicity and cultural background, the FAA was playing politics with public safety.”  

On Nov. 1, 2019, attorneys for Mountain States Legal Foundation filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeking class action status for more than 2,500 aspiring air traffic controllers who were harmed by the FAA’s racially discriminatory hiring policies. 

Two new class representatives, Matthew Douglas-Cook and Suzanne Rebich, have joined Andrew in the reenergized lawsuit, Brigida v U.S. Department of Transportation. Matthew and Suzanne also suffered a loss of opportunity under the new hiring program. Like Andrew, both were highly qualified CTI graduates who did not score high enough on the FAA’s biographical questionnaire to be considered for ATC positions. Instead, others who had less training and were less qualified were given hiring preference. 

With class action certification now under the court’s consideration, the impact of this case is poised to expand and reaffirm that all people should be treated equally under the law, regardless of their race. 

Stay up to date on Andrew’s case and other fights for freedom in the Mountain West. 

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