Friday, March 24, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Older Pilots Lose Battle Over Seniority

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge dismissed the claims of eight pilots who say United Airlines discriminated against them based on their age when they turned 60.

For nearly 50 years, the Federal Aviation Administration enforced an "age 60 rule" that made it illegal for pilots to fly commercial aircraft after their 60th birthdays.

Congress increased that limit by five years with the Fair Treatment for Experience Pilots Act (FTEPA), passed on Dec. 17, 2007. But the new law also required pilots to return to work at junior-pilot status if they had already turned 60 before enactment of the statute.

Eight pilots claimed that they stayed on duty with United as they approached their birthdays in anticipation of FTEPA's enactment, but United interpreted the non-retroactivity limitation to apply solely to flight engineers and denied their requests to continue as pilots.

Since the pilots were fired in December, while they were 60, they claimed that the Air Line Pilots Association International committed breach of duty for fair representation. They also sued United Airlines for employment discrimination.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed the claims against the Air Line Pilots Association last week, agreeing that "the FTEPA's exception to the non-retroactivity provision does not apply to the plaintiffs because they were not employed as 'required flight deck crew members'" on they day the law took effect.

FTEPA's compliance-protection provision immunizes both United and the pilots group from liability for alleged age discrimination, Walton added.

The court also found that the pilots "failed to state a valid ADEA claim against United," since the airline adhered to the law.

The law's non-retroactivity provision does not apply to the pilots, according to the ruling, which also states that FTEPA "does not violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fifth Amendment" and "does not constitute a bill of attainder."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.