United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
Michael Moss, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
United Airlines, Inc.; United Continental Holdings, Inc.; United Air Lines, Inc.; and Continental Airlines, Inc., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE THOMAS M. DURKIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Moss alleges that pilots for the defendant airlines were
deprived of sick time accrual (Count I), vacation time
accrual (Count II), and pension payments (Count III), during
military leave in violation of the federal Uniformed Services
Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (the
“Act”). The Court certified a subclass for each
count. See R. 68. Defendants have moved for summary
judgment on all three counts, R. 92, and Plaintiffs have
cross-moved for summary judgment on Counts I and II, R. 95.
Plaintiffs' motion is denied, and Defendants' motion
is granted in part and denied in part.
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Court
considers the entire evidentiary record and must view all of
the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences from that
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.
Horton v. Pobjecky, 883 F.3d 941, 948 (7th Cir.
2018). To defeat summary judgment, a nonmovant must produce
more than a “mere scintilla of evidence” and come
forward with “specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Johnson v. Advocate
Health and Hosps. Corp., 892 F.3d 887, 894, 896 (7th
Cir. 2018). Ultimately, summary judgment is warranted only if
a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the
nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986).
2010, defendants United Air Lines, Inc., and Continental
Airlines, Inc., merged by becoming wholly-owned subsidiaries
of defendant United Continental Holdings, Inc. See
R. 99-1 at 2-3 (¶ 1). In 2013, United Air Lines and
Continental Airlines merged into United Airlines, Inc.
Id. (unlike the merging entity, the name of the
merged entity contains no space between “air” and
“lines”) In 2019, the holding company changed its
name to United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Id. United
and Continental pilots were governed by separate collective
bargaining agreements until 2014 when a single agreement was
adopted for all pilots of the merged entity. See Id.
at 39 (¶ 32).
the merger, United pilots accrued sick days during all
periods of military leave, see Id. at 41 (¶
35), and accrued vacation days during the first 30 days of
military leave, see Id. at 42 (¶ 37). Before
the merger, Continental pilots accrued sick days through the
first 30 days of military leave, see Id. at 44
(¶ 40), and accrued vacation days through the first 90
days of military leave, see Id. 45-47 (¶ 42).
Since the merger, Defendants' pilots accrue vacation days
and sick days through 90 days of military leave. See
Id. at 14-16, 20 (¶¶ 11, 16). Plaintiffs claim
that the vacation and sick time accrual policies both pre-
and post-merger deprived them of benefits during military
leave in violation of the Act.
provides that “[a] person who . . . has an obligation
to perform service in a uniformed service shall not be denied
. . . any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis
of that . . . performance of service, or obligation.”
38 U.S.C. § 4311(a). Further, the Act makes a
distinction between “seniority” based benefits
and “other” benefits:
A person who is reemployed under this chapter is entitled to
the seniority and other rights and benefits determined by
seniority that the person had on the date of the commencement
of service in the uniformed services plus the additional
seniority and rights and benefits that such person would have
attained if the person had remained continuously employed.
38 U.S.C. § 4316(a);
[A] person who is absent from a position of employment by
reason of service in the uniformed services shall be . . .
entitled to such other rights and benefits not determined by
seniority as are generally provided by the employer of the
person to employees having similar seniority, status, and pay
who are on furlough or leave of absence[.]
38 U.S.C. § 4316(b)(1)(B). A benefit is considered
seniority-based when “the nature of the benefit [is] a
reward for length of service, rather than a form of
short-term compensation for services rendered.”
Coffy v. Republic Steel Corp., 447 U.S. 191, 197-98
(1980); see also DeLee v. City of Plymouth, Ind.,
773 F.3d 172 (7th Cir. 2014).
Supreme Court has recognized that the problem with this
standard is that “even the most traditional kinds of
seniority privileges could be as easily tied to a work
requirement as to the more usual criterion of time as an
employee.” Coffy, 447 U.S. at 203. In other
words, there is no objective difference between a “work
requirement” (or “compensation for services
rendered”) and “time as an employee” (or
“length of service”), because employees spend
their time working. The work accomplished and the time
spent accomplishing it are two sides of the same job-coin.
True, length of service-or seniority-is generally measured in
years, whereas employees are often compensated for services
rendered by the hour. But both involve providing a benefit
(whether money, vacation time, etc.) per unit of time worked.
The inherent tie between time and work means that even
rewards for length of service over months or years can be
framed as compensation for services rendered. See Alabama
Power Co. v. Davis, 431 U.S. 581, 592-93 (1977)
(“It is obvious that pension payments have some
resemblance to compensation for work performed. . . . The
same observations, however, can be made about any benefit and
therefore are of little assistance in determining whether a
particular benefit recompenses labor or rewards longevity
with an employer.”).
all benefits can be described with reference to a certain
period of time worked, “the particular formula”
by which “benefits [are] calculated, ” i.e., the
length of the period of time worked necessary to receive any
given benefit, is not the “crucial factor” in
determining whether the benefit is seniority-based for
purposes of the Act. See Alabama Power, 431 U.S. at
592, and Coffy, 447 U.S. at 203. Rather, it is the
“real nature” of the benefit that is key to
determining whether a benefit is a “reward for length
of service” or “compensation for services
rendered.” Alabama Power, 431 U.S. at 588-89.
“real nature” the Supreme Court appears to mean
whether the benefit is a future-oriented longevity incentive,
or backward-looking compensation for work already performed.
The Supreme Court has held that benefits like pensions,
severance pay, or unemployment pay are seniority-based
because they concern an exchange of financial security for an
employee's long-term commitment to an employer, i.e.,
accrual of seniority. See Accardi v. Penn. R. Co.,
383 U.S. 225, 230 (1966) (“[The] use of the label
‘compensated service' cannot obscure the fact that
the real nature of these payments was compensation for loss
of jobs. And the cost to an employee of losing his job is not
measured by how much work he did in the past-no
matter how calculated-but by the rights and benefits he
forfeits by giving up his job.”) (emphasis added);
Alabama Power, 431 U.S. at 593-94 (pension credit
was held to be seniority-based because a period of years is
required for a pension to vest and the purpose of a pension
is to assure financial security of long-time employees in
retirement); Coffy, 447 U.S. at 205 (“[T]he
purpose and function of the [weekly supplemental unemployment
benefits] is to provide economic security during periods of
layoff to employees who have ...