On November 27, 1995, a group of 14 pilots filed suit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 631(a) against American Airlines in the United States District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the Court for injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as back pay, alleging that the defendant discriminated against them on the basis of age. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that the Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) regulation that no person can serve as a commercial pilot or copilot after the age of 60, did not apply to the third officer position, referred to as the flight officer.
The crux of the matter lay in American Airlines' policy to force captains to retire at the age of 60, rather than let them serve as a flight officer. Some of the older models of aircraft, though they were being phased out of American Airline's fleet, required the flight officer position for the purpose of monitoring fuel, electrical and other systems on the plane. Tice v. American Airlines, 288 F.3d 314 (7th Cic. 2002). All of the plaintiffs in the suit were former captains who wanted to downgrade to flight officer rather than retire. Tice v. American Airlines, 288 F.3d 315 (7th Cic. 2002).
On March 31, 1997, the Court (Judge Williams) entered judgment on the pleadings, terminating the case. The plaintiffs appealed, and on February 25, 1999, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the District Court's decision. There followed several years of discovery.
On August 29, 2001 the Court (Judge Kennelly) dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs appealed and on April 30, 2002, the 7th Circuit (Judges Posner, Kanne, Rovner) modified the lower Court's decision, staying the judgment pending the decision of an arbitration board hearing on the issue. The 7th Circuit Court also remanded the case to the District Court on grounds that the plaintiffs' suit was dependent on their preferred interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, in which event they should be in arbitration. The Court stated the only basis on which the plaintiffs could be entitled to bump existing holders of the flight-officer positions is if the collective bargaining agreement between the airline and its pilots' union entitles more senior pilots to bump less senior ones from those positions. In the absence of such a contractual provision, an employer would have no duty to give another job to an employee validly disqualified from holding his present job. Tice v. American Airlines, 288 F.3d 315 (7th Cic. 2002). The Court paraphrased the plaintiffs perspective on this issue when it stated that nothing in the collective bargaining agreement authorizes such discrimination. Tice v. American Airlines, 288 F.3d 317 (7th Cic. 2002).
The arbitration board interpreted the CBA against the plaintiffs, and the defendants moved to remove the stay and dismiss the case.
On January 20, 2004, the District Court (Judge Kennelly) granted the defendants motion for dismissal justifying the decision by the arbitration board's decision on the matter. Tice v. American Airlines, 6932 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7 (N.D.I.L. 2004). The plaintiffs appealed and on June 29, 2004, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (Judges Posner, Kanne, Rovner) upheld the lower court's decision. They supported their decision simply by saying that as long as what the arbitrators did can fairly be described as interpretation, the Court's hands are tied. Tice v. American Airlines, 373 F.3d 854 (7th Cir. 2004). Thus, the case was close on July 7, 2004.Matthew Aibel - 05/04/2008