On April 28, 2021, the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration agreed to a record-breaking $43.8 million settlement to end a 16-year-old lawsuit alleging discrimination against 672 former Flight Service Specialists who live in nearly all 50 states. The settlement, the largest ever reached in an age discrimination lawsuit involving the federal government, concludes this ligation.
“It has been a long journey, but I am thrilled that justice will finally be served in this case,” Kathleen Breen, one of the affected former employees, said in a statement. “Sixteen years ago, I lost my job due to a discriminatory choice by our federal government, despite our loyalty and commitment to keeping our skies safe. The consequences of that decision are still with so many of us to this day, which is why we never gave up our fight.” Gary Gilbert, one of the lead counsel for the Plaintiffs stated that this “was among the most egregious acts of mistreatment of employees by our government that I have seen in my more than 40 years of practice.”
Gilbert Employment Law, P.C. believes that this case should serve as a reminder that no federal agency is above the law and violating the rights of federal employees will have serious consequences.
In 2005, the FAA conducted a Reduction in Force (RIF) by which it terminated its Flight Service Specialist workforce, who provide critical information to pilots about meteorological and aeronautical conditions before and during flights. The FAA contracted out this service to Lockheed Martin later that year. The RIF, coupled with the general inability of these older workers to remain employed with the FAA, wreaked havoc on the lives of the Flight Service Specialists, many of whom were only a few years shy of obtaining their pension benefits at the time the FAA proceeded with its mass layoff. More than 90% of these workers were over the age of 40. This lawsuit alleged that the FAA’s decision to conduct the RIF was because the FAA viewed the Flight Service Specialists as an “aging” and “retirement eligible workforce,” meaning that keeping older workers would make it more difficult to train and recruit new people, while also causing the government to pay out full retirement benefits – motivations driven by age discrimination, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
This lawsuit was filed on September 30, 2005 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of hundreds of Flight Service Specialists who were terminated by the FAA through the RIF. Discovery was conducted, and the parties filed motions for summary judgment in 2007 asking the Court to rule on the case without a trial, but the Court did not rule on those motions. In April 2016, the case was reassigned to U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman.
Gilbert Employment Law, P.C., as well as Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll PLLC joined the case in April 2016 and filed a renewed opposition to the FAA’s summary judgment motion, as well as motions to permit more former Flight Service Specialists who were affected by the RIF to join the lawsuit.
In May 2017, the Court denied the FAA’s motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs’ claims of intentional discrimination, and subsequently permitted hundreds of additional Flight Service Specialists to join the case. The case came close to trial just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States in early 2020, and the Parties ultimately pursued mediation to reach a settlement.
The Plaintiffs were represented by lead counsel Gary Gilbert of Gilbert Employment Law, P.C., and Joseph Sellers of Cohen Milstein. Linda Kincaid, Michal Shinnar, Shannon Leary and Lenore Garon of Gilbert Employment Law, P.C., and Brian Corman of Cohen Milstein represented the Plaintiffs as well.
The original lawsuit is styled: Breen et. al. v. Buttigieg, et. al., 1:05-cv-00654-PLF, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.