Age and Sex Discrimination Disputes Top New Aviation Cases

Labor disputes top two recent decisions, one from a U.S. Court of Appeals case and one from a U.S. District Court, that involve aviation.

Bondurant et al. v. Air Line Pilots Association et al., Case No. 10-1904 (6th Cir. May 7, 2012)

In the first case, the plaintiffs, former Northwest Airlines pilots were appealing the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on an age discrimination claim and a claim against the union for breaching its duty of “fair representation.”  The plaintiffs alleged that in negotiating labor concessions with Northwest Airlines, the union and the airline established a “bright line cutoff” for establishing eligibility for full claim of retirement benefits.  The Plaintiffs, pilots for Northwest, fell on the other side of that bright line cut off.  Although the Plaintiffs did not allege that the union acted in bad faith, it did allege it acted arbitrarily.  However, both the District Court and the Court of Appeals held that the union’s conduct, although it may be deemed “discriminatory” did not rise to the level that it breached the duty of fair representation, which is conduct that is “intentional, severe, and unrelated to legitimate union objectives.”

Likewise, the Court of Appeals held that the Plaintiffs/Pilots allegations of intentional age discrimination fall “decidedly short.”  The Court held that while the agreement arrived at by the union and the airline may have had effects that correlated with age, it was a “reasonable, although imperfect, attempt to reconcile conflicting objectives.”  Therefore, the Court affirmed the District Court’s decision in granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

D’Antonio v. Napolitano, Case No. 11-1295 (E.D. Va. May 4, 2012)

The second case involved a woman suing the Secretary of Homeland Secretary for sex discrimination over the treatment she received when applying for a job as a Federal Air Marshal.  The Defendant claimed in a motion to dismiss that the Plaintiff failed to comply with the administrative exhaustion requirements and failed to timely seek Equal Employment Opportunity counseling regarding her non-selection for a Federal Air Marshal position.  Alternatively, the Defendant moved for summary judgment because the Plaintiff is unable demonstrate that she was treated any differently than male applicants for the Federal Air Marshal position.  The U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia granted the motion to dismiss and denied the motion for summary judgment as being moot.

The Defendant claims that the Plaintiff was not selected to be part of the Federal Air Marshal program because she was too old for entrance into the program – a fact that was made known to her at the time of her non-selection in 2004.  Plaintiff alleges that several waivers of the age requirement were given to males selected for the program in 2007, and believed that the waiver policy had been in effect at the time she was not selected in 2004.  She applied for EEO counseling, and the Defendant was granted summary judgment on the basis that the Plaintiff did not meet the age requirement at the time of her non-selection.  This was affirmed by the EEOC and the Plaintiff filed her Complaint with the federal court.

The Defendant argued in its Motion to Dismiss that the Plaintiff did not initiate EEO counseling until well after the time limit for filing such claims.  Therefore, the Defendant concludes, the Plaintiff did not meet her duty to exhaust administrative remedies and her case ought to be dismissed.  Plaintiff argued that because she did not know that age waivers were available at the time of her non-selection, she did not file for EEO counseling.  This tolling of the time limit until discovery was rejected by the Court.  Additionally, the Court held that even if the Plaintiff argued that “equitable tolling” ought to apply, she did not offer any evidence that tended to show that the Defendant “wrongfully deceived or misled the plaintiff in order to conceal the existence of a cause of action.”  Thus, the Court granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.

Although the Court’s granting of the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss rendered the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment moot, the court also held, alternatively, that, as a matter of law, the Plaintiff failed to come forward with facts, which, when taken as true, establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination.  Therefore, the Court decided, in the alternative, that it would grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

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