More than 1,200 American Airlines Pilots Win One of the Largest Class Action Settlements in the History of Federal Veterans’ Rights Law

Outten & Golden LLP
02.15.2017

Today, a federal judge in Boston approved one of the largest class action settlements in the history of the federal law that protects the employment rights of service-members and veterans, the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”).  The settlement will benefit more than 1,200 American Airlines pilots.  (A copy of the Judge’s order can be found here, and a motion for final approval that describes the settlement in detail can be found here).

Under the settlement that is now worth over $6.5 million, more than 1,200 American Airlines pilots will be eligible to receive additional retirement contributions for thousands of periods of military leave that they took since January 1, 1997.  In the lawsuit, which was filed in January 2014 and certified as a class action in July 2016, the pilots claimed that American Airlines, the airline’s pension plan, and the plan’s fiduciaries failed to make the correct amounts of pension contributions to the pilots for the periods in which they served in the U.S. Armed Forces.  

Under the settlement, it is estimated that all Class Members will receive payments of 100% of the amounts of pension contributions they were allegedly denied based on the formula the Plaintiffs advocated for in the litigation, and a large portion of the Class Members will receive annual interest on the contributions they were allegedly denied.  The payments will be funded with $500,000 of cash and nearly 137,000 shares of stock that are currently worth approximately $6.4 million (the value of the stock, and in turn, the Settlement may increase or decrease prior to the time that the shares are paid to the Class).  It is likely that most of the payments will be placed in the pension accounts of the Class Members so that the pilots receive favorable tax treatment on their payments.

American Airlines pilot Mike Allman, a retired Air Force Colonel and the lead plaintiff and class representative in the case, said “I am incredibly honored to have represented our citizen warriors at American Airlines who have sacrificed so much in the defense of our country.  I am proud to have achieved such an outstanding result for all of my fellow warrior pilots, who will now receive at least 100% of the retirement contributions they are entitled to receive under federal law.  I hope that other veterans and servicemembers will take action to exercise and enforce their rights under USERRA.”

The pilots were represented by a team of lawyers who focus on vindicating the employment rights of servicemembers and veterans, as well as other types of workers: R. Joseph Barton and Jason Leviton of Block Leviton LLP; Peter Romer-Friedman of Outten & Golden LLP; Matthew Z. Crotty of Crotty & Son PLLC (a former Army Ranger); Thomas G. Jarrard of the Law Office of Thomas Jarrard (a retired Marine); and Robert Mitchell (a retired Marine).

In 2014, the same group of lawyers won a $6.15 million settlement for more than 1,200 United Airlines pilots who similarly claimed that their employer denied them pension contributions for over a decade.  The American Airlines and United Airlines settlements are the two largest reported settlements under USERRA—a law that protects the rights of workers to serve in the military and return to their civilian positions, be free of discrimination based on their military service or status, and receive retirement contributions for periods of military leave.  Many of USERRA’s protections date back to World War II, and have long been supported by Congress as a way of encouraging civilian workers to participate in the National Guard and Reserves.  

Peter Romer-Friedman of Outten & Golden said, “This groundbreaking settlement shows what can be accomplished for our courageous servicemembers and veterans when they take action to enforce their rights.”

R. Joseph Barton of Block Leviton said, “This is an outstanding settlement.  We look forward to seeing these pilots receive the compensation they are owed.”

Thomas G. Jarrard of the Law Office of Thomas Jarrard said, “I applaud Colonel Allman for the selfless courage and leadership he exemplified as the lead plaintiff in this case, which are not a surprise given his background and service to the United States Navy and Air Force.”   

   
Matthew Z. Crotty of Crotty & Son said, “It was a privilege to represent this group of veterans who held their company accountable.”

Contacts:
Peter Romer-Friedman, (202) 847-4401 or 718-938-6132, prf@outtengolden.com

R. Joseph Barton, (202) 734-5458, joe@blockesq.com

Thomas G. Jarrard, (425) 425-239-2790, tjarrard@att.net

Matthew Crotty (509) 850-7011, matt@crottyandson.com