DALLAS — The Justice Department has filed a class-action lawsuit against American Airlines, claiming the carrier illegally denied benefits to pilots while they were serving in National Guard and reserve units.
The Justice Department said late Thursday that it filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Dallas on behalf of three Naval Reserve and Air National Guard pilots. Officials said it was the first time they had filed a class-action case charging an employer with violating a 1994 law designed to protect employees who leave their jobs temporarily to serve in military units.
The government charged that American conducted an audit in 2001 and cut benefits of pilots who took leave for military service but didn't reduce benefits of pilots on other types of leave.
"No reservists -- indeed, no members of our armed forces -- should ever be punished or discriminated against for answering the call of duty," said Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American Airlines, declined to comment on specifics of the suit.
Wagner said many pilots came out of the military and had obligations for further service. "We are committed to doing our best to help them do their duty to their country," he said.
He declined to say whether employees who take leave for military service or other reasons lose their benefits while gone.
The Justice Department identified the pilots as Naval Reserve Capt. Mark Woodall, Naval Reserve Cmdr. Michael McMahon, and Paul Madson, a lieutenant colonel in the South Dakota Air National Guard.
The government said efforts to settle the cases had failed.
American, a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp., was accused of violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.