Plaintiff John E. Hoefert is an Airbus pilot for American Airlines (AMR) and a brigadier general in the Arizona Army National Guard. He was originally commissioned as an officer in 1989, and joined the US Army Reserve in 1992. In 2000, he began working for America West Airlines, which later merged into US Airways, which in turn merged with American, so Hoefert’s commitments to both the military and the airlines are long-term.
How can a person do both and maintain their employment standing, particularly when the military commitment may require long leaves of absence from work? A law known as USERRA, or the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act makes it possible. Unfortunately, the complaint for this class action alleges that AMR is violating that law.
The class for this action is all pilots who were or are employed by AMR, and who were or are members of the US Armed Services or National Guard, who took military leave from July 1, 2012 to the present.
USERRA forbids “discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed services” whether they’re performing that duty on a voluntary or involuntary basis. Among other things, it says that such a person “shall not be denied initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership, … performance of service, … or obligation.”
And the term “benefit” can mean “any advantage, profit, privilege, gain, status, account, or interest … that accrues” through a contract or employer policy, including rights and benefit under “a pension plan, a health plan, an employee stock ownership plan, insurance coverage and awards, bonuses, severance pay, supplemental unemployment benefits, vacations, and the opportunity to select work hours or location of employment.”
Hoefert has of course taken periods of short-term and long-term leave from his airline employers to fulfill his military commitments. These include a long-term military leave of absence from July 15, 2012 to February 28, 2015, a period during which his then employer, US Airways, merged with AMR.
The complaint claims that AMR’s policies discriminate against pilots on military leave, because they do not allow these pilots to get the same accrued sick days and accrued vacation days as pilots who are on jury duty, medical leave, vacation, or union leave. Also, the company maintains a bonus program, whereby employees receive bonuses based not on individual performance but on company performance in several areas. While the company gives these bonuses to those who are absent on jury duty, medical leave, vacation, or union leave during the bonus period, it does not pay them to those on military leave during the same period.
The complaint claims AMR discriminated against Hoefert, denying him benefits granted to employees on other kinds of leave, and therefore makes claims for accrual of sick time, accrual of vacation days, and payments of bonuses.