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A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court and reinstated a class action filed by an airline group employee who charged the group is not complying with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, the federal law that says employees who take military leave are entitled to the same rights and benefits of 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, bereavement and sick leave, the airlines must also pay pilots for short-term military leave, according to the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in 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 appeals court panel.
In entering judgment 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 with 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 in the comparability analysis: duration, purpose and control,” it said.
“The court seemingly considered only the evidence presented by the Airlines when it concluded that no reasonable jury could find for Clarkson,” it said. “Because factual disputes exist, comparability is an issue for the jury,” the ruling said, in 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’ attempts to nullify one of the statute’s most important protections, and its opinion brings the class one step closer to vindicating their right to equal treatment. Class Counsel look forward to presenting this case to a jury as the Ninth Circuit decision contemplates.”
The airlines’ attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.