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United Airlines Voluntary Separation Leave and 36-Month Program and Class Action

At various times, United Airlines, Inc. has wanted to reduce the number of its employees and has therefore offered voluntary separation leave programs (VSLs). This class action concerns a related plan, the United Airlines 36-Month Supplemental Benefit Plan, which allows retiring employees to get the benefits of a later VSL offered within three years after their retirement date. The complaint alleges that United did not keep its promises to do this.

When United wants to reduce its workforce, it offers VSLs with special benefits to induce workers to take early retirement, or an “early out.” When its employees are thinking of accepting a VSL, or simply thinking of retiring, the complaint alleges, they may hesitate, wondering whether a better offer might be around the corner.

On August 17, 2017, the United CEO, Oscar Munoz, offered the 36-Month Supplemental Benefit Plan, which was meant to end this hesitation. The complaint quotes this plan as promising that, if an employee retires, and United later offers “an early out within 36 months after you retire, you [will] be eligible for the financial benefits of the program even after retiring.”

United announced another VSL on January 21, 2021. To be eligible, an employee had to have at least fifteen years with United and be at least 45 years old. The VSL offered incentives that included cash payments, medical benefits, and travel benefits. Employees could accept this plan between January 21and February 25, 2021.

Under the terms of the 36-Month plan, then, anyone who had retired on or after January 21, 2018, and who met the terms of eligibility, should have been able to get the benefits offered by this new plan. But the complaint alleges the plan was offered only to active employees.

The plaintiffs in this case are three United employees who retired within the 36 months before the new program was offered and who meet the eligibility requirements for the new VSL. The complaint says that all of them should get the benefits offered by the new program. But United has refused to provide them with these benefits, the complaint alleges, claiming that the January 21 program was actually not an “early out” program and that the 36-Month program therefore does not apply.

“However,” the complaint asserts, “in both form and substance, except for the greater benefits offered, the VSL program was identical to the VSL1 and VSL2 voluntary separation programs offered by United between August 17, 2017, and January 21, 2021, both of which were considered early out programs.”

The class for this action is all former United employees who retired from active service with United within the 36 months before January 21, 2021, and who were at least 45 years old with at least 15 years of service at the time of their retirement and who otherwise met the eligibility criteria of the VSL program announced on January 21, 2021 except that they were not active employees.

Article Type: Lawsuit
Topic: Employment

Most Recent Case Event

United Airlines Voluntary Separation Leave and 36-Month Program Complaint

March 10, 2022

At various times, United Airlines, Inc. has wanted to reduce the number of its employees and has therefore offered voluntary separation leave programs (VSLs). This class action concerns a related plan, the United Airlines 36-Month Supplemental Benefit Plan, which allows retiring employees to get the benefits of a later VSL offered within three years after their retirement date. The complaint alleges that United did not keep its promises to do this.

United Airlines Voluntary Separation Leave and 36-Month Program Complaint

Case Event History

United Airlines Voluntary Separation Leave and 36-Month Program Complaint

March 10, 2022

At various times, United Airlines, Inc. has wanted to reduce the number of its employees and has therefore offered voluntary separation leave programs (VSLs). This class action concerns a related plan, the United Airlines 36-Month Supplemental Benefit Plan, which allows retiring employees to get the benefits of a later VSL offered within three years after their retirement date. The complaint alleges that United did not keep its promises to do this.

United Airlines Voluntary Separation Leave and 36-Month Program Complaint
Tags: Did Not Perform as Promised, ERISA, Early Retirement Programs