Passengers Seek Damages from Tattered Union

U.S. Dist. Judge Patti B. Saris (D. Mass., Clinton) ruled Sept. 28 that  Am. Airlines passengers whose flights were canceled as the result of a union “sickout” in Feb. 1999 can proceed with claims against the Allied Pilots Ass’n. Saris denied APA’s motion for summary judgment. The court, however, granted summary judgment to the APA’s president finding he was immune from personal liability in connection with the sickout.

APA Pilots represented engaged in a sickout between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9, 1999, that resulted in cancellation of more than 1,600 flights. Am. Airlines obtained a temporary restraining order on Feb. 10. However, the day after the TRO was issued, the number of flight cancellations increased. U.S. Dist. Judge E. Joseph Kendall (N.D. Tex., H.W. Bush) on Feb. 12 found APA, its president, Richard Lavoy, and another union boss in contempt for violating the TRO. Kendall levied a $45.5 million fine against the union and its bosses for violating his order to call off the sickout. The fine has been upheld and APA has made arrangements to pay it in full plus interest.

Passengers, who had booked flights on American out of Boston’s Logan Airport filed a complaint in Sept. 2000 against the Am. Airlines, APA, and the union bosses. They sought damages for the expenses they incurred after their flights were canceled.

Saris found that there was no federal labor law preemption in this case. “The common law remedy here of intentional interference with contract is not designed to sanction labor violations, but is a generally applicable tort to protect private expectations arising from a binding contract.”  Saris further found: “Once Judge Kendall issued the TRO, his order trumped any possible justification defense based on the rights conferred by the collective bargaining agreement.”  [BNA 10/19/01]