American Airlines must face pilots' lawsuit over paid military leave

Published 05/21/2024, 11:04 AM
Updated 05/21/2024, 01:35 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pilots talk as they look at the tail of an American Airlines aircraft at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone/File Photo
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit by American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) pilots over the carrier's failure to pay them for short-term military leave.

In a 3-0 decision, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said a reasonable jury could find short-term military leave comparable to jury duty leave or bereavement leave, for both of which American pays pilots.

The court revived a class action by pilots who took short-term military leave, defined as 16 or fewer days, from January 2013 to October 2021.

During that period, the leaves averaged 3.3 days, while jury duty and bereavement leaves averaged 1.8 days and 2.7 days respectively.

But pilots took short-term military leave more often, averaging about 22 days annually, compared with about two days of jury duty leave and three days of bereavement leave.

Without ruling on the merits, Circuit Judge Arianna Freeman said the leaves had similar lengths, and pilots had little or no control over when to take them.

She also said jurors could find that military leave and jury duty leave shared a common purpose: civic duty.

Pilots sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 which gives employees on military leave a right to the same benefits as other employees.

The pilots were led by James Scanlan, a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and Carla Riner, a brigadier general in the Delaware Air National Guard.

American declined to comment.

Jon Taylor, a lawyer for the pilots, said the decision affirmed Congress' intent that military personnel are "not put at a disadvantage when they answer the call to serve." He said the pilots looked forward to a trial.

The appeals court agreed with American that the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier did not breach the pilots' profit-sharing plan.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pilots talk as they look at the tail of an American Airlines aircraft at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone/File Photo

It returned the case to U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in Philadelphia, who had dismissed it in November 2022. The lawsuit began in 2018.

The case is Scanlan et al v American Airlines Group Inc, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-3294.

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