AA to pay pilots for military reserve duty

Pilots for American Airlines who had been denied benefits for short-term military reserve duty will receive back pay in a settlement between the airline and Justice Department.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pilots for American Airlines who had been denied vacation and sick leave benefits for short-term military reserve duty will receive back pay in a settlement between the airline and Justice Department lawyers seeking to protect military employment rights.

The agreement, if approved by a court, will end a lawsuit filed two years ago against the airline, which had refused to pay pilots on reserve duty the same benefits paid to pilots who served on jury duty or fulfilled other non-military obligations.

Although 353 American Airlines pilots will split a modest total of about $346,000 -- less than $1,000 each on average -- the head of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division touted the settlement as an important legal milestone.

"We are very happy with this favorable settlement," Grace Chung Becker said.

She said the agreement was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Dallas, Texas. American Airlines is based in nearby Fort Worth.

The case was the first class action lawsuit involving the employment rights of service personnel under a law passed in 1994 to ensure employees are not penalized by their civilian employers for military service.

In the past four years, Justice Department lawyers say, more than 20 cases have been brought to court under that law -- the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994.

"No member of the military should be disadvantaged for choosing to serve our country and for answering the call of duty," Attorney General Michael Mukasey said in a written statement.

The lawsuit involved only American Airlines pilots who had served 16 days or fewer, which generally covers the amount of time reservists are required to conduct training drills each year. Officials said that accounts for the relatively small amount of benefits accrued by the pilots.

Pilots who served longer periods of time and are deployed abroad are covered by collective bargaining agreements, Becker said.

Under the agreement, American Airlines will change its policies to ensure that the benefits will be granted to all pilots in the future.

The settlement specifically says the 353 pilots will divide $345,772 for the loss of vacation and sick leave benefits, and the airline will provide currently employed pilots with sick leave credits at an estimated value of $215,000. To top of page

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