Some African-American United Airlines pilots involved in a lengthy lawsuit over allegations of discrimination at the airline are asking Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice to look into their claims, their attorney said Thursday.
The pilots allege Chicago-based United passed them over for management promotions because of their race and retaliated against them for filing civil rights complaints.
“These claims remain as baseless today as they were four years ago when they were originally filed,” United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said in an email.
About a dozen pilots filed complaints about discriminatory promotion practices with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010 and reached a settlement with United the following year, according to Brian Mildenberg, an attorney representing most of the pilots.
In 2012, 23 United employees, mostly captains, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in San Francisco, alleging the discrimination continued along with retaliation for filing the complaints. The following year, a judge said the lawsuit failed to show black employees were excluded from applying for certain positions but said the pilots could amend the complaints.
In July, Judge Vincent Chhabria dismissed some of the pilots’ claims, but others, including allegations United retaliated against them for filing the 2012 lawsuit, are headed to trial. The pilots’ cases are now being handled separately, and five trials have been scheduled for June 2017, Mildenberg said.
In the most recent complaints, the pilots allege a “secret racist organization within United” they call “The Vault” attempted to keep African-American pilots from being promoted. Chief pilots would “consistently dole out special assignments only to white pilots,” they claimed in court records, also alleging they were denied promotions because they filed the discrimination lawsuit.
The pilots also claim colleagues made offensive racial comments and one pilot, Ken Haney, said he found a photograph of a lynching with a note saying, “How to move up in seniority at United Airlines” in his work mailbox after the 2012 lawsuit was filed, according to court records.
United denied the existence of “The Vault” and said it’s proud of its record on diversity. Three of the airline’s eight chief pilots are African-American, said McCarthy, who accused the pilots’ attorneys of trying to pressure United to settle.
“We remain confident that United will prevail in these remaining cases,” she said.
The pilots are seeking orders requiring United end discriminatory practices and damages for lost wages, Mildenberg said.
“They’re looking for policies to ensure this conduct does not occur in the future and that discrimination ends once and for all,” he said.
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