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Navy not liable for giving author a pilot’s evaluation report

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Oct 11, 2000    

Navy not liable for giving author a pilot’s evaluation report

  • One of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots lost a Privacy Act claim against the Navy after it gave a flight performance evaluation to an aviation writer.

Mary Louise (Missy) Cummings, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, may not sue the Navy for violating the federal Privacy Act even though it released an evaluation board’s assessment of her flying abilities to aviation author Robert Gandt, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., ruled in early September, a decision which Cummings plans to appeal.

Judge Joyce Hens Green wrote that the Feres doctrine, which prohibits military servicepeople from suing the government for activities incident to their service, prevents Cummings and other servicepeople from suing for damages for Privacy Act violations.

In a footnote, the judge acknowledges that servicepeople are subject to the Privacy Act even if they cannot sue. Nowhere in the decision does she address the public’s interest in pilot evaluations or in the evaluation process, or how the information might affect a Privacy Act claim.

When the Navy granted permission to Gandt to follow squadron personnel through a training program, without the pilots’ knowledge, so that he could research a book about the training of fighter pilots, and when the Navy released Cummings’ evaluation to him, its actions were “incident to service,” the judge said.

Gandt’s 1997 book “Bogeys and Bandits: Making of a Fighter Pilot,” quotes directly from a report evaluating Cummings, who he calls “Sally Hopkins ” in his book. Cummings said the public revelations from her files caused her personal and professional distress and humiliation. She has also sued Gandt for defamation.

The Navy in 1994 convened a board to assess Cummings’ training on the strike Fighter Attack 18, the “Hornet.” The board recommended her flying status be terminated and her wings removed, but her supervisors rejected the verdict. Cummings is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a master of science degree from the Naval Post-Graduate School.

Cummings has now written her own book, “Hornet’s Nest,” describing her experiences as one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots. In it she contends her tour was marred by discrimination and sabotage.

(Cummings v. Department of the Navy) RD


© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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