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Miller v. American Airlines

May 5, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 03 C 7756-Sidney I. Schenkier, Magistrate Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge


Before POSNER, WOOD, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

Plaintiffs Louis Miller and Richard Royals, ages eighty and seventy-five years old respectively, have sued their former employer, American Airlines, Inc. for failing to offer them a position with salary comparable to that of their previous job of flight engineer, which they held until May of 2002. Because the arbitrator determined that the collective bargaining agreement did not entitle the plaintiffs to positions of equal pay and the plaintiffs also have not shown that their age was the reason that they were offered inferior positions, summary judgment was appropriate on their claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Additionally, the plaintiffs cannot challenge the facial validity of the collective bargaining agreement because this claim was not properly raised in their charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Therefore, we affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of American Airlines in its entirety.


In the 1950s, the plaintiffs began working as flight engineers for American Airlines. American Airlines historically operated aircrafts that required three individuals in the cockpit-the captain, first officer, and the flight engineer. As technology became more advanced, there was less need for flight engineers to occupy the third seat in the cockpit. Additionally, airlines began hiring certified pilots, rather than flight engineers, to occupy the third seat. In 1964, American Airlines and its two employee unions entered into a collective bargaining agreement, the Tripartite Agreement ("Agreement"), that preserved the rights of then-current flight engineers to occupy the third seat of a three crew aircraft, but also recognized the right of American Airlines to no longer hire flight engineers. In the years following the agreement, American Airlines began to retire its three-crew aircraft, and in 1983, the Agreement was amended to reflect this change. The new provision, Supplement U, provides that:

In the event a surplus of flight engineers exists, each flight engineer so affected, who is qualified or train- able, will be guaranteed placement within the Company [American Airlines] . . . . At the time of his placement, the employee's monthly salary will be fixed based on the average of his earnings for the previous twelve (12) months as a flight engineer. If the employee's average monthly earnings as a flight engineer exceed the total monthly compensation actually earned in his new job, the employee will be paid such flight engineer's guaranteed monthly earnings. Such guarantee will be in effect until his normal flight engineer retirement date, and thereafter, his salary will be governed by the compensation plan applicable to the new position.

Supplement U was negotiated due to concerns that new technology would make flight engineers obsolete prior to the vesting of their pensions. The provision was designed to ensure that flight engineers would continue to receive the flight engineer rate of pay until the "normal flight engineer retirement date," which the American Airlines' Retirement Benefit Plan sets as age sixty-five.

In May 2002, American Airlines grounded the last of its three crew airplanes, and the plaintiffs and one other individual were the only three active flight engineers at the time. Prior to the grounding of the fleet, American Airlines sent the three remaining flight engineers a letter offering them staff assistant positions in its publications department, positions which paid $100,000 less than their salaries as flight engineers. At that time of this offer, plaintiff Royals was seventy years old and plaintiff Miller was seventy-five years old.

The plaintiffs filed charges with the EEOC against American Airlines, alleging that they were discriminated against because of their age in violation of the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., when the defendant did not offer them a position of comparable salary which, they maintained, was required by Supplement U of the Tripartite Agreement. The plaintiffs filed suit, and the district court initially found that the plaintiffs' claims involved a minor dispute over terms in a collective bargaining agreement and therefore were preempted by the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. The district court then ordered the case stayed until the parties completed arbitration.

During arbitration, the plaintiffs filed a grievance with American Airlines, making essentially the same allegations that they made in their ADEA complaint. The arbitrator determined that the grievance was untimely because it was filed more than 90 days after the occurrence being grieved. The arbitrator further determined that American Airlines was not obligated by Supplement U to offer alternative employment at a salary comparable to that of a flight engineer. The American Airlines' Retirement Benefit Plan provides that the normal retirement age is sixty-five, and the arbitrator found that the plaintiffs were only guaranteed flight engineer pay until that age.

Following the arbitration decision, the district court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The district court adopted the arbitrator's findings that Supplement U did not guarantee flight engineer pay past the age of sixty-five. It also found that the plaintiffs' claim that Supplement U was facially discriminatory fell outside the scope of their EEOC charge, and even if the merits could be reached, the claim failed because there was no evidence that Supplement U was motivated by a discriminatory purpose. The plaintiffs appeal.


A. Summary Judgment was Appropriate on the ADEA Claim Because There was No Guarantee of Comparable Pay ...

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