Class action: United Airlines shorting employees pay when on short-term military service

By Scott Holland | Jan 10, 2019

United Airlines is facing a federal class action from airline workers who say the company isn’t fully paying them for their time away on active military duty.

Eric White, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., filed his complaint Jan. 7 in Chicago. White said he started as a pilot with Continental Airlines in 2005 and stayed with the company after its 2010 merger with United. He’s also been on active and reserve duty with the U.S. Air Force since 2000. According to his complaint, United violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act by not paying normal wages and salaries to employees on short-term military leave, which also has the effect of shorting them credit under the company’s profit-sharing plan.

The complaint said the alleged violations go back at least as far as 2006. White said United doesn’t pay employees on short-term military leave the same way it does for workers away for other reasons, such as jury duty and sick leave, although USERRA requires companies to give employees equal treatment. He further said USERRA “requires all employee pension benefit plans — like United’s profit sharing plan — to treat military service as continued service for an employer.”

White called for creation of both a paid leave class and a profit-sharing class and supposed each group could include several thousand current and former employees dispersed worldwide.

Short-term military leave includes terms of 30 days or fewer. White’s complaint said USERRA regulations explain “the ‘most significant factor to compare’ two types of leave to determine if they are a ‘comparable form of leave’ is ‘the duration of the leave’ ” and that “jury duty and sick leave are comparable to short-term military leave in terms of the duration of these forms of leave and in terms of the involuntary nature of the leave.”

 

According to the complaint, other major airlines such as Southwest and Delta calculate profit-sharing awards without punishing employees for time missed due to military duty.

White said he had dozens of short-term leave periods going back to 2005, as well as some long-term periods. He said he should’ve been entitled to greater profit-sharing payouts every year from 2011-2017. In addition to class certification and a jury trial, the complaint calls for the airline to pay liquidated damages. White wants the court to declare the alleged USERRA violations as willful and wants it to force United to grant back pay, as well as to adjust profit sharing awards.

The complaint also calls for the company to change its policy so it pays employees away on military leave in the future, so long as the airline gives “pay to employees when they take other comparable forms of nonmilitary leave.”

Representing White in the matter are attorneys from Outten & Golden LLP, of Washington, D.C., and Chicago; as well as Block & Leviton LLP, of Washington, D.C. The complaint notes pro hac vice motions are forthcoming from the Law Office of Thomas G. Jarrard LLC, Spokane, Wash.; and Crotty & Son Law Firm, PLLC, also of Spokane.

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Block & Leviton LLP Outten & Golden U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois United Airlines

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