January 9, 2020 – American Airlines Handed a Win in Case Over Military Leave
A federal judge granted summary judgment to American Airlines after agreeing with the company that the employee benefits at issue in the case were not covered under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
The plaintiff in the suit, an American Airlines pilot and member of the U.S. Army Reserve, argued that the airline had violated the USERRA by failing to grant pilots seniority-based benefits while they were on military leave. American Airlines contended that such benefits—including sick time, vacation time, and operations-based bonuses—were not seniority-based but were rather determined by “service” performed, meaning they did not fall under the rights protected by the USERRA.
According to court documents, the judge agreed with American Airlines and noted that sick time, vacation days, and incentive bonuses were all means of rewarding employees for the actual time they spent working rather than how long they had been with the company.
Read more about the background of the case and the judge’s decision here.
A Brigadier General in the Arizona Army National Guard has filed a proposed class action against his employers – American Airlines, Inc. and American Airlines Group, Inc. – over allegations that they discriminate against uniformed servicemembers when calculating sick time, vacation time, and bonuses. The plaintiff argues that the airline unlawfully excludes periods of military leave when calculating these benefits, but doesn’t apply the same method to other types of leave, such as jury duty, medical leave, vacation, and union leave.
According to the lawsuit, military leave is considered continuous employment and should be taken into account when employers award sick time, vacation time, and other benefits.
In fact, the complaint cites the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which, according to the suit, “provides that any period of absence from employment due to or necessitated by uniformed service is not considered a break in employment, so an employee absent due to military duty must be treated as though they were continuously employed.”
The suit claims that USERRA guarantees “the same non-seniority-based benefits provided to other employees on similarly-situated, non-military related leaves of absence.”
American Airlines’ Benefit Policy
Here’s what the plaintiff has to say about the airline’s benefit policy:
Sick Time – The plaintiff claims that the airline’s pilots are given five hours of sick time for each month they work, as long as they work for at least 15 days in that month. Pilots in the military, however, are denied sick time for the duration of their military leave if they are not available for more than 15 days each month, the complaint says. Allegedly, pilots on other forms of leave still accrue sick time, even if they are available for less than 15 days per month.
Vacation Time – If an employee is on military leave for more than 60 days in one year, his or her vacation time is reduced by one tenth for every 30 days of leave, according to the plaintiff, but the defendants allegedly do not reduce vacation time for employees on other types of leave. Similarly, servicemembers do not accrue vacation time during military leave, unlike civilian employees who take leave, the suit says.
Bonuses – American Airlines awards bonuses to all of its employees based on the performance of the company, the complaint claims. Members of the military, however, are allegedly denied these bonuses if they are on leave during the bonus period.
Have Other Airlines Been Accused of Discrimination?
Yes. In February of this year, we covered a similar case filed by four pilots against Delta Air Lines, Inc. The plaintiffs, employees of Delta who were members of the military, claimed the airline harassed uniformed servicemembers in a variety of ways for requesting military leave. Read more about the case here.
Who Will the Suit Cover?
This suit seeks to cover all pilots employed by American Airlines who are or were members of the United States Armed Services or National Guard and took military leave between July 1, 2012 and the present.