United Airlines settles suit brought by pilots called up for military service
By Kip Hill | The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash. | Published: May 21, 2014
SPOKANE, Wash. — A trio of Spokane attorneys claimed victory Tuesday in a $6.15 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit alleging United Airlines didn’t properly compensate pilots called into military service.
The agreement is one of the largest recorded civil settlements of a case under a federal law that requires employers to honor promotions, raises and other benefits military veterans would have otherwise received had they not been called into service. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act has become a specialty for Spokane-based attorneys Thomas Jarrard and Matthew Crotty, two military veterans who were joined in the United Airlines case by Robert W. Mitchell, a Marine Corps veteran and fellow Spokane attorney.
U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez in Colorado signed off on the settlement Tuesday, saying it should serve as a model in similar cases across the country.
The money paid by the Chicago-based airline will go into an account that will be disbursed to the estimated 1,160 United pilots who also served overseas between 2000 and 2010 and received less money in their pension accounts than the law requires, defense attorneys alleged. The lawsuit was originally brought by James D. Tuten, an 18-year pilot with United who lives in Colorado. Tuten served three tours with the U.S. Air Force during that period, leaving United in 2006, 2009 and 2010, according to the lawsuit.
During those periods of leave, contributions were made per company policy to Tuten’s retirement account based on the minimum number of monthly flight hours required under United’s contract with its pilots. The Spokane attorneys argued that Tuten and other veterans should have received monthly contributions totaling the average of their previous 12 payments prior to deploying.
Crotty said Tuesday the success of the case hinged upon Tuten’s courage to stand up to his employer in court. Tuten is still a pilot with United.
“But for Danny’s leadership, this settlement wouldn’t have happened,” Crotty said.
Jarrard and Crotty have brought a similar lawsuit against the Washington State Patrol, alleging that agency failed to provide military service boosts to civil service exam scores used in promotions. Several WSP troopers, including Charles Arnold, of Spokane, are named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which could affect up to 10 percent of the agency’s workforce.
Jarrard said he was initially alerted to the pension issue at United by pilots who would call and say the airline could not – or would not – provide calculations for their pension payments, which were far less during deployments than at other times. After Tuten agreed to file the lawsuit, Jarrard and his colleagues began to look into how many United pilots had claims against the company.
“It affected every pilot who went on long-term military leave,” Jarrard said.
Those pilots will be able to opt in to the settlement and receive the pension pay calculated in the settlement agreement. Attorneys in the case will receive about $1.75 million for their services, with the rest of the money going into the pot for veteran pilots.
“I’m very confident that every pilot is going to get their due compensation,” Jarrard said.