Some years ago, when I worked for a company we shall refer to as Big Airline, I overruled a senior cabin crew member (Purser) over a technical issue. My decision was reached after consultation with the First Officer and the ground engineer and the Purser was given a full explanation of the reasons. My decision was later endorsed by the fleet Technical Manager. I even voluntarily wrote a long explanation of the case to the purser after she had complained to her management. Her management declined to give her the explanation.
A number of months later I flew with the Purser again who, after another disagreement of a technical issue decided to go sick and left the crew halfway through the trip. The following day I was interviewed by a senior manager who said he had a written complaint that I had “shouted at the purser”. This doesn’t seem like a major offence and indeed was completely untrue as it was the outstation engineer that had shouted at her.
As a result of this complaint the company devoted nearly three months of investigations including a whole week for a team of two and numerous meetings, usually between two “suits” and me and a another captain/union rep (in Big Airline you ALWAYS take a prisoner’s friend).
The result of all this was a statement that I had no case to answer and that the Purser had lied on a number of occasions, something that must have been very obvious at the beginning. It was then followed by a requirement for me, the purser, her manager, my manager and a training captain to have a meeting to decide that the Purser and I could work together. During this meeting the Purser (who arrived two hours late) lied several more times. It was very obvious to me, and I suspect everyone else, that she had some serious problems. At the end of the long meeting I agreed that we could probably work together so we could all get lunch before the canteen closed. I was assured verbally afterwards by my manager that there was no chance of that ever happening (working together, not lunch!).
The point was that the Purser had made so many complaints about numerous people in the past that they had started a second file because the first one was full. The company (and particularly her manager) was frightened of her and instead of the whole thing being stopped at the beginning by a wise manager they continued to escalate the problem and put it on someone else table. No-one would make a decision, they would rather spend money.
Incidentally, neither I, nor several of the investigators, were allowed to see the written complaint. Just remember this was about nothing worse than someone allegedly shouting. No action was ever taken about the Purser’s false complaint, lies or failure to obey a lawful command on two occasions.
Very often complaints like this are backed up by others tacitly agreeing with the complainer, this because the serial complainer is also a bully and pushes others to agree with them. The agreement is often withdrawn later, but this is never taken into account until the situation becomes very formal.
I have seen something similar happen (not to me) at our squadron recently - the system doesn’t trust its junior managers (OC Squadron) to make decisions and take sensible action, so the issue becomes a major one that takes months to decide there is no problem.
No, it isn’t fair, but it is where we get to with a system the promotes managers that never make a bad (any?) decision.