Victory by American Airlines in Suit Over Alleged Age Discrimination Is Affirmed
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed the dismissal of an action by three sexagenarians against American Airlines who claim they were enticed to leave their jobs as flight attendants based on age discrimination.
The airline has maintained that it acted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with no discriminatory intent.
Plaintiffs Robert Kincheloe, 68, Vonna Rudine, 65, and Sandra Christafferson, 65, set forth in their second amended complaint that they accepted offers to retire under American Airlines’s Voluntary Early Out Program (“VEOP”) but alleged that “Plaintiffs can prove that but for their age, Defendant would not have targeted them for the March 2020 Offer.” That offer, they asserted, “violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (‘ADEA’).”
Face Masks Discouraged
“Defendant increased the pressure to accept the March 2020 Offer by discouraging flight attendants from taking advantage of recommendations to use personal protective devices, such as facemasks.”
American Airlines explained in its brief in the District Court for the Northern District of California:
“In early 2020. the COVID-19 pandemic devastated American’s business, as well as that of the entire airline industry. Demand for air travel plummeted, and with the drastic reduction in flights and revenue. American needed to reduce its staffing levels in order to lower its costs. In an effort to do so, and in an attempt to mitigate the scope of involuntary furloughs, in March 2020, American offered numerous employee work groups, including flight attendants, the option to take a leave of absence or to separate from the Company through a Voluntary Early Out Program….Flight attendants who volunteered for the First VEOP received approximately 50% of then* annual wages either in a lump sum or over a 12-month period, and were eligible to retain certain benefits.”
District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman dismissed the action with prejudice based on a failure to state a claim.
Yesterday’s memorandum opinion, signed by Ninth Circuit Judges Patrick J. Bumatay and Consuelo M. Callahan, along with Ninth Circuit Senior Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder, affirms, saying:
“Appellants have alleged that they were constructively discharged in March 2020 when American Airlines discouraged them from wearing face masks and denied leaves of absence and reduced work schedules until enough flight attendants accepted the VEOP. The VEOP was a response to the extraordinary drop in demand for air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The employment conditions imposed were consistent with federal policy guidelines at that time. To constitute constructive discharge, there must be intolerable working conditions that are ‘a result of discrimination.’…Even assuming the federal policy guidelines were unreasonable, the situation was not attributable to any conduct by American Airlines.”
The case is Kincheloe v. American Airlines, Inc., 22-15726.
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