CHICAGO (CN) - United Airlines fired three senior pilots in a undisguised effort to eliminate pilots 65 and older, without "even bother[ing]" to give a nondiscriminatory reason for their terminations, the three men claim in court.
Douglas Bader, Charles Doyle and Ralph Rina sued United Airlines in Federal Court.
All of them worked as line pilots for Continental Airlines, until they reached 65, the statutory age limit for flying commercial passenger jets, when they became flight instructors.
when Continental and United merged in 2010, United negotiated a new agreement with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) with the aim of getting rid of pilots older than 65, the pilots say.
"United aggressively pursued inclusion of a provision in the new United/ALPA contract to eliminate all pilots and instructors over the age of 65. United made no secret of its intentions during the negotiations," the complaint states.
"As a result of United's insistence that the new United/ALPA contract eliminate all pilots and instructors over the age of 65, a Letter of Agreement was attached to the new United/ALPA contract to accomplish that purpose. Under this 'Letter of Agreement,' the position of Non-Line Qualified Flight Instructor was abolished at United solely and expressly for the purpose of terminating plaintiffs and others as they turn 65.
"United has chosen to terminate each of the plaintiffs based solely on their age, in violation of the ADEA [Age Discrimination in Employment Act]. United has not even bothered to offer any alternative nondiscriminatory explanation for its actions, making the terminations even more egregious," according to the complaint.
The pilots claim: "There is no statutory or regulatory limit on the age for flight instructors."
All three men ranked very high on the airline's seniority list, with Rina holding the number one slot on the pilot seniority list until he was fired.
United did not find new positions for the flight instructors when it moved its training facility from Denver to Houston in mid-2013, and declared them "surplus" employees.
"Of the 20 former Continental instructors who worked at the Houston facility, 17 were given new positions, either in Houston or Denver. The only three who were not awarded new positions were plaintiffs," the complaint states.
"In spite of United's urgency to terminate plaintiffs, United has also said that it is hiring new instructors because of a shortage.
"As of January 1, 2014, each of the plaintiffs has been replaced by a younger, less experienced pilot, who may have very limited experience as an instructor. At least nine of the replacements are newly hired instructors, far younger and less experienced than any of the plaintiffs.
"Most of the instructors hired by United have never served as a captain in any commercial line operation."
The pilots seek damages for age discrimination, violation of the Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona civil rights acts, wrongful discharge, breach of covenant, and emotional distress.
They are represented by David Axelrod.