Justice Dept. Sues United Airlines For Denying Benefits To Air Force Reservist On Military Leave

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides that anyone who takes leave from their current job to serve in the armed forces is entitled to the same general benefits as an employee on non-military leave. However, the U.S. Department of Justice says that United Airlines violated this law by refusing sick day benefits to an Air Force reservist while he was away on military leave.

Air Force Reservist Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Fandrei had been flying planes for United (and subsequently United Continental after the two airlines merged) since for nearly 13 years when the Air Force recalled him in Dec. 2012 to fly KC-10 refueling tankers for a few months.

He notified the airline of the military leave and spent three months overseas with the Air Force before returning to United in March 2013. That’s when he found out that he had not accrued any sick time while he was away.

The contract between the airline and the pilots’ union says that pilots accrue a certain number of hours of sick leave if they worked at all during a calendar month. However, that contract also states that pilots on military leave can not accrue that sick time.

Which might have been fine, if the contract didn’t allow for pilots on other types of extended leave — like going to work for the pilots union — to accrue the sick time.

This disparity, alleges the DOJ in a complaint [PDF] filed today in a federal court in Illinois, is a violation of USERRA “by failing to credit Fandrei with ten hours of sick leave for the two full months of his deployment, despite granting this benefit to employees on comparable leave.”

The lawsuit seeks damages equal to the amount of Fandrei’s lost benefits and an order requiring United to comply with all provisions of USERRA.

“USERRA ensures that servicemembers like Lt. Col. Fandrei who answer our nation’s call to duty don’t return to civilian life and find their employment benefits denied and their civil rights violated,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

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