United Airlines Pilots Who Served in the Military Win Historic $6.15 Million Settlement Over Veterans' Pension Benefits

(WASHINGTON, D.C., May 20, 2014) A U.S. District Judge in Denver, Colo., has approved a $6.15 million class action settlement between United Airlines and 1,160 United pilots who served in the military from 2000 to 2010—resulting in one of the largest reported payments in U.S. history to resolve a claim brought under the federal veterans’ reemployment rights law, known as the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act or USERRA.

The pilots are represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLC, a prominent national class action firm based in Washington, D.C., and the Law Office of Thomas G. Jarrard PLLC, Crotty & Son Law Firm PLLC, and the Law Office of Robert Mitchell PLLC, Spokane, Wash.-based firms that are owned and operated by veterans whose practices focus on assisting veterans.

The settlement resolves a 2012 complaint filed by James Daniel Tuten, a United Airlines pilot who took military leave to serve in the U.S. Air Force.  Tuten claimed that from 2000 to 2010 United failed to provide its pilots with the correct pension contributions that federal law requires employers to make for employees who take military leave.  United had calculated pilots’ pension contributions based on compensation associated with the minimum monthly wage that pilots receive, but Tuten claimed that federal law required United to make pension contributions based on each pilot’s average compensation in the 12-month period before a period of military service.

Tuten said of the settlement: “In the military we have each others' backs and we work for the greater good.  When we started this we wanted to make sure that everyone was made whole.  We accomplished that through this outstanding settlement.  I especially want to thank United Airlines for their willingness to step up and make things right for all service members involved in this case.”

“This settlement sends a strong message that veterans will band together and take collective action when their rights are violated or denied by their employer,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a civil rights and employment attorney at Cohen Milstein. “We are committed to ensuring that all veterans receive the rights and benefits they have earned for their courageous service to our nation,” added R. Joseph Barton, an employee benefits attorney at Cohen Milstein.

Under the agreement, all pilots will receive supplemental pension contributions that represent at least 100 percent of the pension contributions that, according to the plaintiffs, United failed to make from 2000 to 2010.  And about 90 percent of the claims should receive annual interest to make up for lost earnings on those pension contributions. The supplemental pension payments will, to the greatest extent possible, be paid into the pension plan to take advantage of the tax favored treatment.

In addition, United has agreed to make a number of positive reforms to its policy for making pension contributions to pilots who return from long term military leave, including:

(1) improving its policy so that pension contributions are based on compensation that captures all hours worked and all military leave before military leave occurs;

(2) informing pilots how pension contributions are calculated after military leave;

(3) estimating how much pilots will likely receive in pension contributions before they start a period of military leave.

In approving the settlement, Judge William J. Martinez, U.S. District Court, District of Colorado, wrote that each of the relevant factors for considering the approval of a class action settlement “weighs in favor of the finding that the Settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate. Even more, the Court is of the view that the results achieved for the Plaintiff class in this case were outstanding, worthy of being emulated by class representatives and counsel in other comparable litigation.”

“These men and women served their country with honor and distinction, so it was an honor for me to serve those veterans in this case,” said Plaintiffs’ counsel Thomas G. Jarrard, who has served in the U.S. Marine Corp and Reserves for more than 23 years.

“I appreciate the courage that James Daniel Tuten showed,” said Plaintiffs’ counsel Matthew Z. Crotty of Crotty & Son, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Washington Army National Guard and the commander of the 341st Military Intelligence Battalion. “He stood up not only for himself but also for his fellow servicemen and women to hold United Airlines accountable.  Without his leadership we could not have achieved this outstanding result for all United Airlines pilots.”

Added Plaintiffs’ counsel Robert W. Mitchell, a former U.S. Marine, “I am thankful that United Airlines had the integrity to do the right thing for its service member pilots, and I truly hope that other American companies will follow United’s example.”

For more information about the settlement, visit:

http://www.unitedpilotsclassaction.com and http://www.cohenmilstein.com/cases/288/united-airlines-pilots-pension-contribution-userra-litigation

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