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Southwest Settles Service-Member Pilots’ Benefit Claims for $19M

Sept. 17, 2018, 4:07 PM

Southwest Airlines Inc. pilots would get about $19 million in sick leave and retirement benefits they say they were denied while on military leave, under a new proposed settlement.

The settlement, filed Sept. 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is the latest in a class action brought against Southwest by pilot Jayson Huntsman and covering as many as 2,000 current and former employees. The pilots say the airline violated service members’ civil rights by allegedly failing to account for accrued sick leave benefits and to pay pension contributions while the employees took leave for military service.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act requires an employer to maintain sick leave accruals during military service leave if it also maintains accruals for other absences, such as jury duty, which Southwest does, the lawsuit says.

Under the settlement the pilots would have access to 100 percent of the sick leave they say they were denied between 2008 and the date the preliminary approval for the settlement was filed, and 77 percent of the average sick leave allegedly denied between 2001 and 2007. The sick leave benefits would cost Southwest more than $13 million.

Southwest would also pay $5.8 million into a fund that will, among other payments, provide class members 401(k)-related benefits and payments to former pilots who no longer have use for sick leave.

The motion is unopposed and awaits approval from Judge James Donato.

Southwest didn’t respond to a Bloomberg Law request for comment.

Huntsman is represented by Outten & Golden LLP, the Law Office of Thomas Jarrard, and the Crotty & Son Law Firm PLLC. Southwest is represented by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart PC.

The case is Huntsman v. Southwest Airlines Co., N.D. Cal., plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval of class action settlement 9/13/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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