A federal judge in Chicago has signed off on class action status for a lawsuit against the Air Line Pilots Association International, or ALPA, by management pilots for United Airlines, who complain they were not fairly compensated in a payout of $225 million in retroactive pay the association distributed on behalf of the airline.
The two groups seeking class-action status in Case No. 13-C-6243 were ordered by U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman to confer and file either a joint proposal or competing proposals by Oct. 14.
The classes are represented by pilots James Barnes, Phillip Whitehead, Walter Clark, David Bishop and Eric Lish. The men claim ALPA discriminated against the two groups – management pilots and pilot instructors - in allocating the retroactive pay it disbursed after entering into a collective bargaining agreement in 2012.
The groups claimed the Air Line Pilots Association failed in its duty of fair representation, and in the case of the management pilots, unjustly enriched itself by accepting the pilots’ dues and contract maintenance fees.
The pilots claim ALPA’s retro-pay calculation has three flaws: the retro pay to management pilots was offset by the amount they received from United in annual bonuses, some credit hours were excluded, and the average number of credit hours flown by the pilots’ bid category was used instead of the actual number of hours worked.
ALPA had argued the pilots could not satisfy the requirements of a class action suit, but the court disagreed. They meet the requirement of numerosity of plaintiffs because the pilots estimate the action includes at least 120 people, readily identifiable using employment records. ALPA also argued that three of the pilots representing the class had personal conflicts that make them inadequate representatives of the class, but the court disagreed. It also pointed out that even if, at some future date, one or two of the men were shown to have conflicts, the remaining pilots could carry on as class representatives.
ALPA also contested the questions of commonality and predominance. According to court documents, ALPA argued that any claim it failed to represent a pilot depends on whether that individual pilot relied on ALPA’s representation. In dismissing this argument, the judge pointed out that the claim arose from ALPA’s collective bargaining power – which is common by definition.
“The presence of an individual question does not defeat the existence of a common question,” the judge wrote. “ALPA’s premise – that each putative class member must individually prove reliance to demonstrate that ALPA represented her – is incorrect.”
The class affected by the lawsuit includes all United pilots who paid union dues or contract maintenance fees to ALPA while working as a management pilot for United between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 18, 2012. The first claim to be tried is whether ALPA breached its duty of fair representation to these pilots in allocating the $225 million in retro pay provided by United. The second claim is over the question of whether, if ALPA did not owe such a duty to the class, it improperly collected and pocketed union dues and contract maintenance fees from those pilots who allege they were not properly represented in exchange for their support and dues.
Myron M. Cherry and Jacie C. Zolna of Myron M. Cherry & Associates LLC, of Chicago, who represent Barnes and the other named plaintiffs, were appointed class counsel.
The Washington, D.C.-based Air Line Pilots Association International is represented by its in-house counsel, as well as attorneys with the firms of Cohen, Weiss and Simon, of New York; Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, of Chicago; and Goldman Ismail Tomaselli Brennan & Baum LLP, of Chicago.