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United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

January 28, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joan B. Gottschall, United States District Judge


Markland brought this suit against his former employer, American Airlines ("American"), alleging a violation of § 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. ("ERISA"). Specifically, Markland alleges that American forced him out of a training program for aircraft captains with the specific intent of interfering with his right to pension benefits. (Compl. ¶ 30.) American moved for summary judgment in this case. Based on the reasoning below, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Once the moving party shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden of proof shifts to the nonmoving party to designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

Local Rule 56.1 of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois provides that the party opposing a motion for summary judgment must respond to the moving party's Local Rule 56.1 statement of uncontested material facts. If the opposing party disagrees with the moving party's statement, the response must indicate that the facts are controverted and include "specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon" to support this assertion. Local Rule 56.1. All material facts set forth in the moving party's Local Rule 56.1 statement of uncontested material facts "will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party." Id.

Markland has failed to file any response to American's motion for summary judgment. Because Markland has not met the requirements of Local Rule 56.1 and has not controverted any of the material facts set forth in American's Local Rule 56.1 statement, all of the material facts set forth in American's Local Rule 56.1 statement are deemed admitted. Tobey v. Extel/Jwp, Inc. 985 F.2d 330, 333 (7th Cir. 1993). In these circumstances, the court will "depart from our usual posture of construing all facts in favor of the nonmoving party; rather we accept as true all material facts contained in [the moving party's Local Rule 56.1] statement." Brasic v. Heinemann's, Inc., 121 F.3d 281, 284 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). The court will examine the movant's motion to ensure that American has discharged its initial burden. Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 454-55 (6th Cir. 1991).

Factual Background

Hans Markland is a retired 757/767 American Airlines Captain. He began his employment with American in 1969 as a Flight Crew Trainee and became a member of the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American's pilots. (American's Local Rule 56.1(a)(3) Statement of Material Facts ("Am. SMF") ¶ 7.) After a series of promotions, Markland trained and qualified for Captain on the 757/767 flying domestic routes and, in 1996, he trained and qualified to captain those aircraft on international routes. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

In 1998, Markland bid for and was awarded the Captain's seat on the newly-introduced 777, subject to his meeting all qualification requirements and certifications. (Id. at ¶ 27.) The training program for the 777 consists of ground school, simulator training and operating experience. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Once a pilot passes the oral examination portion of the testing, he moves on to simulator training. (Id. at ¶ 20.) After three simulator rides with a qualified pilot, a pilot in training normally progresses to the final two rides called "check-rides." (Id. at ¶ 21.) Check-rides consist of maneuvers validation (take offs, landings) and line oriented experience (flying a trip from beginning to end handling all emergencies that may arise). (Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.) An American pilot who fails the check-ride on any aircraft may lose his pilot's license until he can successfully qualify on the new aircraft or requalify on his former aircraft. (Id. at ¶ 26.)

Markland began training for the 777 on January 11, 1999. (Id. at ¶ 28.) He completed ground school and, although he had difficulty with the portion of the oral examination that dealt with the flight management computer, he passed the examination. (Id.) He completed the first five simulator rides with the simulator pilot. (Id. at ¶¶ 21, 29.) He then began the next five rides with the line-qualified pilot, but performed poorly. (Id. at ¶¶ 29, 30.) In particular, he failed to grasp the new, sophisticated flight management computer, which controlled navigation and other critical systems of the 777. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Markland performed so poorly on the first two simulator rides that he had to attend remedial simulator training. (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 32.) Then, unable to handle the complications presented to him, Markland failed the maneuvers validation. (Id. at ¶ 34.) During the customary debriefing following Markland's failure, Warren Vanderburgh, Markland's Check Airman, informed Markland that in light of his poor performance, it did not appear that he would successfully complete the training. (Id.)

After this, Captain John Jirschele, Chief Pilot of O'Hare International Airport, arranged a meeting with Markland and Markland's union representative to discuss the training and Markland's options. (Id. at ¶¶ 38, 39.) During the meeting, Captain Jirschele explained to Markland that he was performing very poorly in training and was in danger of failing his check ride. (Id. at ¶ 42.) Captain Jirschele reminded Markland that if he failed the check ride, Markland's license and employment with American could be in jeopardy. (Id.) He explained that Markland had three options: (1) attempt to complete the 777 program; (2) return to the 757/767, which would require him to undergo requalification training; or (3) retire. (Id. at ¶ 43.) Markland chose the second option. (Id. at ¶ 46.) He ultimately successfully completed the requalification training, returned to the 757/767 as a Captain and retired in December 2000 with his full pension benefits. (Id. at ¶¶ 46, 47.)


Section 510 of ERISA states, in pertinent part, "[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to discharge . . . a participant or beneficiary [of an employee benefit plan] . . . for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan." 29 U.S.C. § 1140. "[S]ection 510 of ERISA protects employees against dismissal by employers who seek to limit costs of health benefit plans by preventing the use of such benefits." Lindemann v. Mobil Oil Corp., 141 F.3d 290, 295 (7th Cir. 1998). A plaintiff seeking relief under Section 510 must establish that the complained of action affecting his employment situation was taken by his employer with the specific intent of interfering with his benefit rights. Teumer v. General Motors Corp., 34 F.3d 542, 550. Specifically, "the plaintiff must ultimately show that a desire to frustrate his attainment or enjoyment of benefit rights contributed toward the employer's decision and can avoid summary judgment only if the materials properly before the district court, construed sympathetically, allow for such a conclusion." Id.

As a result of Markland's failure to comply with Local Rule 56.1, the court has before it only the facts set out above as derived from American's Local Rule 56.1 statement of uncontested facts. Based on the facts before the court, Markland fails to satisfy his burden. Markland presented no evidence that American had a specific intent to deprive him of additional benefits. It is undisputed that Captain Jirschele had no knowledge of Markland's pension benefit status and has never known the amount of pension benefits that Markland was entitled to receive. (Am. SMF ¶¶ 49, 50.) It is also undisputed that Captain Vanderburgh never told Markland that the reason he failed the maneuvers validation was because of his pension. (Id. at ¶ 51.) Further, Markland never had any conversations with Captain Vanderburgh wherein his pension benefits were mentioned. (Id. at ¶ 52.) Based on the record before the court, there is no direct evidence that American had the specific intent to interfere with his pension benefits. Further, there is no circumstantial evidence to support a finding a specific intent. Absent direct evidence, Markland could attempt to prove intent by presenting evidence through the burden-shifting analysis in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). American has advanced a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for presenting Markland with the option of withdrawing from the 777 training — his poor performance in the program indicated that he would not likely complete it successfully. Markland does not present any evidence to the contrary.

Based on the above, the court finds that Markland's Section 510 claim must fail as a matter of law. American's motion for summary judgment is granted.


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