American Airlines Can’t Defeat Military Benefits Suit

Law360 - Adam Lidgett
June 19, 2019

A Pennsylvania federal judge has refused to ground the bulk of a proposed class action accusing American Airlines of violating federal anti-discrimination law by failing to give pilots credit for short stints of military leave when calculating profit-sharing awards.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III on Tuesday declined to dismiss two counts of pilot James Scanlan’s three-count suit claiming the company violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

For one, the judge let stand a USERRA claim that participants in a company profit-sharing plan who took short-term military leave weren’t credited with earnings for the purpose of calculating their benefits under that plan even though workers who took other types of leave such as for jury duty were credited. Judge Bartle said Scanlan made a plausible claim that the company violated the law by not providing “equal rights and benefits under its profit-sharing plan to employees on short-term military leave.”

Judge Bartle also wouldn’t dismiss a claim that American Airlines improperly doesn’t pay workers while they are out on short-term military leave even though workers on comparable other types of leave get paid. The judge said part of USERRA requires that those on military leave get comparable benefits that a company gives to those on nonmilitary leave, and that at this point American Airlines has conceded that short-term military leave and leave for other things such as jury duty and sickness are comparable.

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The judge did, however, agree to dismiss one claim alleging that American didn’t treat short-term military leave as time spent in service of an employer for the purpose of calculating benefits under the plan, which Scanlan said was a pension plan. The judge said the plan wasn’t a deferred compensation plan, but instead essentially either a bonus or extra compensation plan.

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The proposed class is represented by Adam Garner of the Garner Firm Ltd., R. Joseph Barton and Colin M. Downes of Block & Leviton LLP, Peter Romer-Friedman and Hannah Cole-Chu of Outten & Golden LLP, Matthew Z. Crotty of Crotty & Son Law Firm PLLC, and Thomas G. Jarrard of the Law Office of Thomas G. Jarrard LLC.

The case is Scanlan v. American Airlines, case number 2:18-cv-04040, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Pennsylvania.