- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

From combined dispatches

The Department of Justice has filed a class-action lawsuit against American Airlines, saying the carrier illegally denied benefits to pilots while they were serving in National Guard and Reserve units.

Justice officials said it was the first time they had filed a class-action case charging an employer with violating a 1994 law designed to protect employees who leave their jobs temporarily to serve in military units.

The Department of Justice said Thursday night that it filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Dallas on behalf of three Naval Reserve and Air National Guard pilots.

Justice identified the pilots as Naval Reserve Capt. Mark Woodall, Naval Reserve Cmdr. Michael McMahon, and Paul Madson, a lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota Air National Guard.

The government charged that American effectively blocked the pilots from earning credit toward paid vacation and sick leave but didn’t take the same action against pilots who took other types of leave.

The government said American audited the schedules of pilots who took military leave in 2001 and reduced the working time for which they were credited, resulting in lost vacation time.

“No reservists — indeed, no members of our armed forces — should ever be punished or discriminated against for answering the call of duty,” said Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general for civil rights.

American Airlines found “no allegations of denial of either health care or pension benefits” in the government’s suit, company spokesman Tim Wagner said. “The allegations deal with accrual of vacation time and accrual of sick time while on military leave and claims that American should modify pilot bid rules for persons returning from military leave.”

The airline intends to “examine this carefully,” have “meaningful conversations” with the Justice Department and comply with the law, Mr. Wagner said in an e-mailed statement.

Mr. Wagner said many pilots come out of the military and have obligations for further service.

“We are committed to doing our best to help them do their duty to their country,” he said.

He declined to say whether employees who take leave for military service or any other reason lose benefits, other than pensions and health care coverage, while they are gone.

The U.S. Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service referred the case to the Justice Department after investigating the pilots’ complaints and after settlement efforts failed, the Justice Department said.

American, a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp., was accused of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

Staff writer Marguerite Higgins contributed to this report.

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