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UNITED INDEP. FLIGHT OFFICERS v. UNITED AIR LINES
October 6, 1983
UNITED INDEPENDENT FLIGHT OFFICERS, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
UNITED AIR LINES, INC. AND AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aspen, District Judge:
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs, United Independent Flight Officers, Inc., and
certain of its members, William J. Plank, L. Frank Murphey,
Thomas C. Cook, N. Wayne Hughes, Jack W. Parshall, H. Harvey
Hunter, Harry J. Langosh, George Norwood, Robert M. Schisler and
LeRoy A. Shaver, have filed this action against United Air Lines
("United") and the Air Line Pilots Association, International
("ALPA") pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. ("ERISA"), the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et
seq. ("ADEA") and the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et
seq., as applied to air carriers under 45 U.S.C. § 181. Presently
pending before the Court are plaintiffs' motion for class
certification and ALPA's and United's motions for summary
judgment. For reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' motion for
class certification is denied. United's and ALPA's motions for
summary judgment are granted.
The named plaintiffs are members of UIFO, an organization
comprised of current and former United employees who were or have
been pilots. All of the named plaintiffs except Murphey are
retired from United. The subject matter of the present litigation
is a pension plan known as the United Air Lines, Inc. Pilots'
Fixed Benefit Retirement Income Plan, effective January 1, 1976
("the plan"), which is incorporated into the collective
bargaining agreement between United and ALPA. The present plan
was preceded by a voluntary fixed benefit plan which was in
effect from January 1, 1941, through December 31, 1964 ("the
pre-1965 plan"). In this employee-contributory plan,
participation was voluntary; participation credit was not given
for periods during which a pilot chose not to contribute.
On January 1, 1965, United undertook to fund the plan
completely. Prior employee contributions, however, were not
refunded. For employees who began working for United after
January 1, 1965, the number of years of participation in the plan
is the same as the number of years of service minus one, since
participation in the post January 1, 1965, fixed plan became
automatically effective after a year of continuous employment.
Participation credit of years before 1965 remained dependent upon
whether the pilot was eligible to participate and had chosen to
make voluntary contributions.
In early 1972, United and ALPA agreed to change the benefit
accrual formula used to calculate annual retirement income under
the post January 1, 1965, plan. The number of years of
participation in United fixed benefit plans was multiplied by
1.2% (later 1.25% and presently 1.3%) times "final average
earnings." (Final average earnings are one-fifth of the earnings
on the sixty consecutive months of a participant's last 120
months of employment with United which produce the highest sum).
For pilots hired since January 1, 1965, their years of service
minus one equals years of participation, but for many pilots
employed by United from 1941 through 1964, years of service minus
one are not the same as years of participation for purposes of
the benefit accrual formula under the present plan. Thus, with
regard to pilots hired between 1941 and 1965, the amount of
benefits would vary according to the extent of a pilot's
voluntary participation in the Original Fixed Plan.
Plaintiffs seek to credit all plan participants with all of
their years of service with United minus one, claiming that
pilots hired prior to 1965 were never given notice that failure
to participate continuously in the pre-1965 plan would adversely
affect their retirement benefits. Plaintiffs also want a refund
of all voluntary contributions made under the pre-1965 plan. They
have moved to certify claims under Counts I, II and IV as a class
action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. Class certification is not
available for Count III, which is brought pursuant to the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et
seq.*fn1 Additionally, plaintiffs seek certification with respect to
(1) All pilots hired by United Air Lines, Inc.
before January 1, 1965 and who did not participate in
the original fixed pension benefit plan on a
continuous basis and who either retired after January
1, 1976 or are still working for United.
(2) All pilots who ever made contributions into the
original fixed plan and who retired after January 1,
I. The Motion for Class Certification
A plaintiff has the burden of proving that a case is
appropriately a class action and fulfills all of the requirements
in Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. Valentino v. Howlett, 528 F.2d 975, 978 (7th
Cir. 1976). A trial court has broad discretion in determining
whether a class action may be maintained and whether subclasses
should be created as well. In re General Motors Corp. Engine
Interchange Litigation, 594 F.2d 1106, 1129 n. 38 (7th Cir.
1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 870, 100 S.Ct. 146, 62 L.Ed.2d 95
(1979). A decision of a district court as to class representative
satisfaction of Rule 23 prerequisites will only be set aside for
abuse of discretion. Patterson v. General Motors Corp.,
631 F.2d 476, 480 (7th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 914, 101 S.Ct.
1988, 68 L.Ed.2d 304 (1981). In resolving the instant motion,
class certification is a procedural matter, and we are not to
consider the merits of the case. Garcia v. Gloor, 618 F.2d 264,
267 (5th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1113, 101 S.Ct.
923-24, 66 L.Ed.2d 842 (1981). See also Eisen v. Carlisle &
Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156, 177, 94 S.Ct. 2140, 2152, 40 L.Ed.2d 732
(1974). It is with these standards in mind that we turn to the
question of whether plaintiffs have met the requirements of
Rule 23(a) contains four prerequisites to bringing a suit as a
(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all
members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of
law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or
defenses of the representative parties are typical of
the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the
representative parties will fairly and adequately
protect the interests of the class.
Plaintiffs assert that over two thousand current and retired
United pilots are members of the proposed class, and that joinder
is therefore impracticable. Defendants argue, inter alia, that
since only approximately two hundred persons have chosen to "opt
in" to the ADEA count, joinder is indeed practicable. They add
that the crucial inquiry under Rule 23(a)(1) is the practicality
of joinder, which requires consideration of the size of the
class, ease of identifying its members and their addresses, ease
of service and geographic dispersion. These factors are indeed
relevant. Garcia v. Gloor, 618 F.2d 264, 267 (5th Cir. 1980),
cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1113, 101 S.Ct. 923-24, 66 L.Ed.2d 842
(1981); 3 B Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 23.05 (2d ed. 1979). We
however, that plaintiffs have satisfied the numerosity
requirement of Rule 23(a)(1). It is undisputed that 1,500 to
1,800 pilots contributed to the benefit plan prior to 1965.
Moreover, the class members are widely dispersed geographically.
Finally, the individual claims of certain class members may be
too small to warrant individual actions, since participation in
the benefit plan prior to 1965 varied widely among plaintiffs.
This is a factor to be considered when examining the
practicability of joinder. Swanson v. American Consumer
Industries, Inc., 415 F.2d 1326, 1333 n. 9 (7th Cir. 1969).
This factor requires us to consider whether there are questions
of law or fact common to the class. The Seventh Circuit has
observed that such an inquiry is ordinarily not a difficult
matter. Eggleston v. Chicago Journeymen Plumbers, Local Union No.
130, 657 F.2d 890, 895-96 (7th Cir. 1981), cert. denied,
455 U.S. 1017, 102 S.Ct. 1710, 72 L.Ed.2d 134 (1982). We agree with
plaintiffs that there are several common issues in the present
matter, both factual and legal. All members of the proposed class
are or were pilots and members of the pilot fixed benefit plan.
While damages may vary among class members, the benefit accrual
formulas involved in this matter may have adversely affected all
class members. Differences in the amount of damages suffered by
members of a class are not a reason to deny class certification.
Evans v. City of Chicago, 522 F. Supp. 789, 806 (N.D.Ill. 1980),
aff'd in part, vacated in part, 689 F.2d 1286 (7th Cir. 1982).
Plaintiffs raise common issues of law under § 204(b)(1) and §
404(a) of ERISA, as well as the question of whether ALPA breached
its duty of fair representation under the Railway Labor Act,
45 U.S.C. § 181 et seq. We thus conclude that there are issues of
fact and law common to the members of the class.
The third prerequisite for class certification is that the
claim of the representative parties be typical of the claims of
the class. We must therefore decide whether the named
representatives' claims have the same essential characteristics
as the claims of the class at large; this requirement may be
satisfied notwithstanding factual distinctions between the claims
of the named plaintiffs and those of other class members.
DeLaFuente v. Stokely-Van Camp, Inc., 713 F.2d 225 at 232 (7th
Cir. 1983). A named plaintiff's claim is typical if it arises
from the same event or course of conduct giving rise to the
claims of other class members and his or her claims are based on
the same legal theory. Resnick v. American Dental Assn., 90
F.R.D. 530, 539 (N.D.Ill. 1981).
Defendants make several arguments challenging the typicality of
the named plaintiffs vis-a-vis the class. But the fact that each
pilot's case may require individual examination to determine the
extent of his injury reflects a mere factual distinction and does
not mean that the plaintiffs' claims lack the necessary
typicality. The same result is true despite the differing degrees
of voluntary participation among pilots ...