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Hoefert v. American Airlines Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

January 9, 2020

JOHN E. HOEFERT, an individual, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MARK T. PITTMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff John E. Hoefert's Motion for Class Certification (ECF No. 70), Defendant American Airlines, Inc.'s (“American”) Response (ECF No. 81), and Hoefert's Reply (ECF No. 83). Also before the Court is Hoefert's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 112), American's Response and Objection (ECF No. 117), and Hoefert's Reply (ECF No. 121). In addition, before the Court is American's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 115), Hoefert's Response (ECF No. 119), and American's Reply (ECF No. 122).

         Having considered the Motion for Class Certification as well as the Motions for Summary Judgment, related briefing, the parties' Joint Stipulation (ECF No. 110), and applicable law, the Court finds that American's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 115) should be and is hereby GRANTED, Hoefert's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 112) should be and is hereby DENIED, and Hoefert's Motion for Class Certification (ECF No. 70) is DENIED as moot.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Undisputed/Stipulated Facts

         American, an international air carrier, is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Texas. FAC at ¶ 10, ECF No. 94; Answer at ¶ 10, ECF No. 95; Jt. Stipulation at ¶ 1, ECF No. 110.

         In September 2005, U.S. Airways, Inc. merged with America West Airlines, Inc. Jt. Stipulation at ¶ 4. After the merger, employees of each airline became employees of U.S. Airways, Inc. Id. On December 9, 2013, U.S. Airways merged with American. American's MSJ Br. at 3, ECF No. 115. After the merger, employees who began their employment with America West and continued with U.S. Airways became employees of American. Likewise, employees who were employed by U.S. Airways before its merger with America West became employees of American. FAC at ¶ 7. Throughout this Order, the Court refers to pilots employed by American who were previously employed by America West before it merged with U.S. Airways as “LUS West Pilots”; pilots employed by American who were previously employed by U.S. Airways before it merged with American, except for LUS West Pilots, as “LUS East Pilots”; and pilots employed by American and previously employed by American before it merged with U.S. Airways as “LAA Pilots.” Jt. Stipulation at ¶ 5.[1] The Court has created the following visual aid to depict this sequence of events:

         (Image Omitted)

         Hoefert is currently a pilot for American and member of the United States Army Reserve. See Jt. Stipulation at ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 110. Accordingly, Hoefert takes absences to fulfill his Army Reserve obligations, and from July 12, 2012, through February 13, 2015, Hoefert was on such military leave. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9. This leave period will be referred to herein as the “Relevant Time Period.”

         During the Relevant Time Period,

• Hoefert accrued sick leave for the first 31 days and for the month of February 2015, and he did not accrue sick leave from August 2012 through January 2015. Id.;
• Hoefert accrued vacation leave for the period of July 12, 2013 through December 31, 2013 and for the month of February 2015. Id. Hoefert did not accrue vacation leave from January 1, 2014 through January 31, 2015. Id.; and
• Hoefert received monthly operations-based bonus payments from May, June, and July 2012, and he did not receive any monthly operations-based bonus payments from August 2012 through January 2015. Id.

         From July 2012 through December 2018, approximately 1, 623 American pilots (including LAA, LUS West, and LUS East Pilots) took military leave. American's MSJ App'x at 15, ECF No. 116-1; Jt. Stipulation at ¶ 9 (stating that “[a]t this time, there is no disagreement between the parties regarding the military absence dates or the military absences taken by American pilots (including LAA Pilots, LUS West Pilots, and LUS East Pilots”).

         1. Sick-Time Accrual Rates

         From July 2012 through December 2013, LUS East Pilots accrued sick time at a rate of five hours and thirty minutes for each “month of employment as a pilot with the Company.” ECF No. 110 at ¶ 10. This is set forth in Section 14 of the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between U.S. Airways and LUS East Pilots who were represented by the U.S. Airline Pilots Association (“USAPA”). Id.

         From July 2012 through December 2013, LUS West Pilots accrued sick time as set forth in Section 14 of the CBA between America West and LUS West Pilots who were represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, International (“ALPA”), which provides, in part, as follows:

If a Pilot's sick bank is 0:00-154:00 at the end of the bid period, then the Pilot shall accrue sick leave credit at the rate of five hours and thirty minutes (5:30) per bid period of Active Service (except as provided in Section 13) following each bid period in which the Pilot did not call in sick, and four hours (4:00) per bid period of Active Service (except as provided in Section 13) following each bid period in which the Pilot did call in Sick.
If a Pilot's sick bank is 154:01-500:00 at the end of the bid period, then the Pilot shall accrue sick leave credit at the rate of four (4:00) hours per bid period of Active Service (except as provided in Section 13) following each bid period in which the Pilot did not call in sick, and two hours and thirty minutes (2:30) per bid period of Active Service (except as provided in Section 13) following each bid period in which the Pilot did not call in sick.

Id. at ¶ 11.

         From January 1, 2014 to the present, LAA Pilots, LUS West Pilots, and LUS East Pilots have accrued sick time at the rate of five hours for each “month of service, ” a term defined in Section 10 of the applicable CBAs as any month in which the pilot has 15 days or more “of service.” Id. at ¶ 12.

         2. Vacation Accrual Rates

         From January 1, 2014 to present, LAA Pilots, LUS West Pilots, and LUS East Pilots accrued vacation at the following rates:

Accredited Service As of December 31

Vacation Entitlement In Succeeding Vacation Year

Less than 1 year

prorated in b. below

1 through 5 years

21 days

6 years

22 days

7 years

23 days

8 years

24 days

9 years

25 days

10 years

26 days

11 years

27 days

12 years

28 days

13 years

29 days

14 years

30 days

15 years and thereafter

31 days

b. A pilot who, as of December 31 of any Year, has had less than one (1) year of accredited service with the Company will be entitled to a vacation on the basis of one and three quarters (1-374th*) days for each month of service.

Id. at ¶ 13. These rates were set forth in Section 9 of the 2013 American MTA, 2013 U.S. Airway MTA, January 2015 JCBA, and JCBA (“applicable CBAs”). Id. The applicable CBAs provide that “[v]acation days due shall be converted to vacation hours at the rate of 3 hours and 40 minutes (3:40) per vacation day.” Id.

         3. Operations-Based Bonus Payments

         Monthly operations-based bonus payments were earned and paid from July 2012 through December 2018 as follows:

YEAR

MONTH

BONUS $

Check Date[2]

2012

JULY

50

9/28/12

2012

SEPT

50

11/30/12

2012

NOV

50

1/30/13

2013

JAN

50

3/29/13

2013

FEB

50

4/30/13

2013

MAR

50

5/31/13

2013

MAY

50

7/31/13

2013

SEP

50

12/30/13

2013

NOV

50

1/30/14

2013

DEC

50

2/28/14

2014

JAN

100

3/28/14

2014

APR

50

6/30/14

2014

SEP

50

11/28/14

2015

SEP

50

11/30/15

2015

OCT

50

12/30/15

2015

NOV

50

1/29/16

2016

FEB

50

4/29/16

2016

APR

50

6/30/16

2016

OCT

50

12/30/16

2016

NOV

50

1/30/17

2017

JAN

50

3/30/17

2017

FEB

50

4/28/17

2017

APR

50

6/30/17

2017

MAY

50

7/28/17

2017

SEP

50

12/5/17

2017

OCT

50

12/29/17

2017

NOV

50

1/30/18

2018

JAN

50

5/30/18

Id. at ¶ 15. American's Managing Director of Labor Relations, Flight, testified in his Amended Declaration that from July 1, 2012 through the present, LAA Pilots, LUS West Pilots, and LUS East Pilots qualified for bonus payments only if they “worked at least one hour in the month in which the bonus was earned and . . . were on active or eligible inactive status at the time the bonus was paid out.” American's MSJ App'x at 10 at ¶ 21, ECF No. 116-1.

         B. American's “Woodall Policy”

         In 2006, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed suit against American on behalf of American pilots who had taken military leave since 2001. See Woodall v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 3:06-cv-00072-M (N.D. Tex. Jan. 16, 2007).[2] The primary issue in Woodall concerned whether American had treated pilots who had taken military leave less favorably-specifically, with respect to sick leave and vacation leave accrual-than pilots who had taken leave for comparable types of non-military leave such as for jury duty, vacation, union service, and sickness. See generally No. 3:06-cv-00072-M, Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 25. In 2008, American and the DOJ reached a proposed class settlement in which American agreed to treat any pilot absent for military service for 16 days or less as though the pilot had not been absent. Id. at ECF No. 46. Several of the class members objected to the proposed class settlement on the ground that the 16-day “breakpoint” was too short. Id. at ECF No. 68. On August 1, 2008, District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn-now Chief District Judge-overruled the objections and approved the settlement. Id. at ECF No. 74 at 8.

         American asserts that to date, it has applied the Woodall settlement agreement in a manner “more generous” than required by the terms of the settlement agreement “by treating pilots on military absences of 16 days or fewer in one month as if they worked the entire absence for sick and vacation accrual purposes.” American's MSJ Br. at 8. American further asserts that although it was only required to comply with the Woodall settlement agreement for three years, it has voluntarily chosen to continue to comply to the present and that since 2017, American has applied the Woodall policy to LUS West and LUS East pilots in the same manner it has applied the policy to LAA pilots. Id. at 9.[3]

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 1, 2017, Hoefert, as an individual, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, filed the instant lawsuit against American in the District Court of Arizona. ECF No. 1. Hoefert alleged that American violated two provisions of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”) by failing to provide Hoefert and other pilots on military absences with the most favorable sick-time accrual, vacation-time accrual, and operations-based bonus payments. See id.; 38 U.S.C. § 4316(a), (b). American filed a motion to transfer, and on June 7, 2018, the case was transferred to the Court. See ECF Nos. 38-39. Hoefert eventually filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), which is Hoefert's live pleading. ECF No. 94.

         On October 10, 2018, Hoefert filed a Motion for Class Certification in which he sought to certify the following four classes: (1) Bonus Class; (2) U.S. Airways, Inc. Sick Time Accrual Class; (3) Post-Merger Sick Time Accrual Class; and (4) Post-Merger Vacation Time Accrual Class. ECF No. 69; ECF No. 102 at 1-2. After a conference with the parties' counsel, the Court ordered (1) Hoefert to file a document identifying each type of leave he alleged was comparable to military leave, (2) the parties to file a stipulation as to certain matters, and (3) for each party to file a motion for summary judgment. See ECF No. 105. Accordingly, on May 16, 2019, Hoefert filed a response identifying the following five types of absences he alleges are comparable to absences for military leave: (1) sick leave; (2) Duty with the Association; (3) jury duty; (4) vacation; and ...


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