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Harwood v. American Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

May 23, 2018



          Hon. Liam O'Grady, Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 41 and 44. The motions are fully briefed and the Court heard oral argument on April 13, 2018. For the following reasons, the reasons stated from the bench, and for good cause shown, summary judgment is GRANTED in part for the Plaintiff as to Counts II and III of the Amended Complaint and DENIED as to Defendant's affirmative defense against liquidated damages that it acted reasonably and in good faith and that its actions were not willful. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is DENIED in part on Counts II and III of the Amended Complaint and GRANTED in part on the question of liquidated damages.

         I. Background

         The facts of this case are undisputed. Plaintiff Thomas P. Harwood III alleges that Defendant American Airlines (American) violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA) when it refused to reinstate him as a pilot following active duty military service where American determined that Plaintiff was ineligible to fly because he lacked medical clearance required by the Federal Aviation Administration. Harwood is a Major General in the United States Air Force Reserve. From June 2013 to August 31, 2015, General Harwood took military leave from his pilot duties at American to serve in an active duty status with the Air Force. During this tour of duty, on or about December 1, 2013, General Harwood was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

         On June 3, 2015, General Harwood contacted Jerry Shaw with American to advise American that General Harwood intended to return to American at the conclusion of his active duty tour. He requested to be assigned duties as an airline captain based out of LaGuardia Airport and assigned domestic routes flying Boeing 737 aircraft. At the time. General Harwood lived in Alexandria, Virginia. Mr. Shaw contacted Ken Blessum with American to determine if that assignment would be available to General Harwood and Blessum determined that it would be. On July 29, 2015, with General Harwood's reemployment date approaching, Mr. Shaw advised General Harwood to contact Sue Kalosa with American to handle the logistics of his reemployment. There is no evidence at this time that American had any intent but to promptly reemploy General Harwood in the pilot position he requested.

         As American was making arrangements for General Harwood's reemployment as a pilot pursuant to his request, General Harwood, around late July or early August 2015 had discovered that he was unable to obtain a first class medical certificate because of his atrial fibrillation. A first class medical certificate is required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for all pilots. General Harwood first notified American of the situation on August 20, 2015. Subsequent to that notification, Mr. Shaw e-mailed General Harwood to ask for a time frame for obtaining the certificate and to "let [Shaw] know as soon as possible if the medical is going to take some time so [American] can avoid setting up training that [Harwood] will not be able to attend." During a subsequent phone call with Mr. Shaw on August 26, 2015, General Harwood made Mr. Shaw aware that General Harwood still wanted to be reemployed as a pilot, despite the FAA regulations, but that he wanted to use his sick leave balance of 854 hours until he could try to obtain his certificate. American took the position that it could not return General Harwood to work as a pilot because he was not eligible to fly.

         On August 27, 2015, American conveyed to General Harwood that he could not be reemployed as a pilot without a first class medical certificate. On September 1, 2015, General Harwood e-mailed Scott Hansen, American's agent in charge of decisions regarding pilots returning from military leave, to clarify that he was, in fact, reemployed on September 1, 2015. Mr. Hansen replied that day that General Harwood was cleared to start that day as a pilot if he had a valid first class medical certificate. General Harwood replied that he had not obtained the certificate but argued that he met all the conditions of 38 U.S.C. § 4312 and that the first class medical certificate is not a condition precedent to his reemployment. Mr. Hansen responded on September 4, 2015 that General Harwood would not be reemployed as a pilot but that American would reemploy him consistent with 38 U.S.C. § 4313 by reemploying him in an equivalent position.

         General Harwood responded on October 1, 2015, through counsel, requesting that he be reemployed. He requested reemployment as a pilot or in the alternative be employed in Operations Safety and Compliance within the Flight Department, or be employed in Flight Operations within the Flight Department, both located in Dallas, Texas. On October 22, 2015, American offered Harwood a custom-made position with American's Flight Technical Operations Group within the Flight Department in Texas.

         General Harwood accepted that position on January 25, 2016. Also on January 25, 2016, Harwood obtained a waiver from the FAA for special issuance of a first class medical certificate, he notified American that he had finally obtained that certificate, and he was promptly reassigned the next day as a 737 pilot as he had requested in the summer of 2015.

         In the months between September 1, 2015 and his official reemployment in 2016, General Harwood spent from September 14 to 18, September 21 to 26, October 13 to 30, November 2 to 6, November 17 to January 7 and January 19 to 22 on active duty status with the Air Force. General Harwood continues to be employed by American as a pilot and has taken and returned from military leave since 2015 without incident.

         The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment on both remaining counts of the complaint. General Harwood has also moved for summary judgment on American's affirmative defense that it acted reasonably and in good faith and that its actions were not willful.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment will be granted where, viewing the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, there remains no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Marlow v. Chesterfield Cty. Sch. Bd. 749 F.Supp.2d 417, 426 (E.D. Va. 2010). A party opposing a motion for summary judgment must respond with specific facts, supported by proper documentary evidence, showing that a genuine dispute of material fact exists and that summary judgment should not be granted in favor of the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). Conclusory assertions of state of mind or motivation are insufficient. Goldberg v. B. Green & Co., 836 F.2d 845, 848 (4th Cir. 1988). As the Supreme Court has held, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.' Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 519 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 447 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986)) (emphasis in original).

         III. ...

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