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American Airlines Flow-Thru Pilots Coalition v. Allied Pilots Association

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 16, 2016



          RICHARD SEEBORG United States District Judge.


         The named plaintiffs in this putative class action are five individual pilots and an unincorporated association of more than 150 similarly-situated pilots who originally were employed by "American Eagle"-a collective name for several regional affiliates of American Airlines.[1] In 1997, Eagle pilots became eligible to become pilots at American by virtue of a so-called "Flow-Thru Agreement" executed among the airline companies and the affected unions. Plaintiffs, who refer to themselves and the putative class members as "Flow-Thru-Pilots" (FTPs), acquired certain rights under that agreement with respect to when and how they would be offered positions flying for American, and what their seniority status would be among American pilots. The FTPs would also come under the representation of the union for American pilots, defendant Allied Pilots Association ("The Union")-at least once they began flying at American. A disputed issue in the present motion for summary judgment is whether the Union owed any duty to FTPs who had not yet obtained positions at American.

         Plaintiffs contend that the Union has subsequently discriminated against them and all other FTPs in connection with (1) the integration of former TWA pilots into the American workforce in the early 2000s, and (2) the more recent and ongoing absorption of former U.S. Airways pilots into American employment. In essence, plaintiffs allege that the Union has placed the interests of former TWA and U.S. Airways pilots above those of the FTPs in subsequent bargaining with American, with resulting negative impacts to the FTPs' seniority status, service credits, pay, and other benefits.

         The Union now seeks summary judgment and plaintiffs seek class certification. For reasons explained below, summary judgment will be granted in part, and the class certification will be granted as to the remaining claim.



         1. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The purpose of summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). The moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). If it meets this burden, the moving party is then entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case with respect to which he bears the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322-23.

         The non-moving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The non-moving party cannot defeat the moving party's properly supported motion for summary judgment simply by alleging some factual dispute between the parties. To preclude the entry of summary judgment, the non-moving party must bring forth material facts, i.e., "facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . . Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 588 (1986).

         The court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, including questions of credibility and of the weight to be accorded particular evidence. Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496 (1991) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 588 (1986). It is the court's responsibility "to determine whether the ‘specific facts' set forth by the nonmoving party, coupled with undisputed background or contextual facts, are such that a rational or reasonable jury might return a verdict in its favor based on that evidence." T.W. Elec. Service v. Pacific Elec. Contractors, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1987). "[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. However, "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         2. First claim for relief

         The first claim for relief of the operative Second Amended Complaint alleges the Union breached its duty to plaintiffs of fair representation by negotiating and agreeing to "Discriminatory LOS [length of service] Provisions." In essence, the dispute arises because under the 1997 Flow- thru agreement, FTPs were not entitled to receive LOS credit for the time they flew at Eagle before joining American. At the time this agreement was reached, of course, the FTPs were at the bargaining table with their own union. The arrangement might not have led to future disputes had it not been for (1) the post- 9/11 downturn in the industry that led to a multi-year hiring freeze at American, and (2) American's merger with the bankrupt TWA, which resulted in a large number of TWA pilots ("the TWA staplees") coming into competition with the FTPs for available jobs at American.

         The complaint sets out an extensive history of events in the collective bargaining process over the years that plaintiffs contend reflect the Union's discriminatory conduct against FTPs and in favor of other groups of pilots, including but not limited to the TWA staplees. The first claim for relief incorporates all those allegations, and asserts they constitute the breach of the Union's duty of fair representation. The Union's present motion contends, and plaintiffs do not dispute, that there are two basic categories of claims: (1) those arising from the negotiation of so-called "Letter G" as part of a collective bargaining agreement made in 2015, and (2) all other claims, which relate to earlier negotiations and events. The Union contends that the "all other claims" are ...

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