A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court and reinstated a class-action lawsuit filed by an employee of the airline group who accused the group of failing to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, the federal law that says employees on military leave are entitled to the same rights and benefits as other workers.
Casey Clarkson, a commercial airline pilot and military reservist, charged that because Alaska Air Groups Alaska Airlines Inc. and Horizon Air Industries Inc. provide paid leave for non-military leaves including jury duty, death and sick leave, the airlines must also pay pilots for short-term military leave, according to the judgment of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco i Casey Clarkson v. Alaska Airlines Inc.; Horizon Air Industries Inc.
The U.S. District Court in Spokane, Washington, granted the airlines summary judgment dismissing the case and was overturned by a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals.
In ruling for the airlines, the district court concluded that no reasonable jury could find military leave comparable to non-military leave, the ruling said.
But the lower court erred by comparing all military leaves to non-military leaves, “rather than just the short-term military leaves at issue here,”; the ruling said.
The ruling said the lower court also erred “by disregarding countless factual disputes about each of the three factors of the comparability analysis: duration, purpose and control,” it said.
“The court appears to consider only the evidence presented by the airlines in concluding that no reasonable jury could find for Clarkson,” it said. “Because there are factual disputes, comparability is a question for the jury,” the ruling said, reversing the lower court and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Plaintiff attorney R. Joseph Barton, of Barton & Downs LLP in Washington, said in a statement, “The Ninth Circuit correctly rejected the airlines’ attempt to nullify one of the statute’s most important protections, and its opinion brings the class one step closer to asserting its right to equal treatment . Class counsel look forward to presenting this case to a jury considering the Ninth Circuit decision.”
Lawyers for the airlines did not respond to a request for comment.