United Airlines is an American International airline serving more than 340 destinations worldwide. The company, whose headquarters are in Chicago, Illinois, is patented by United Airlines Holdings (registered in the New York Stock Exchange Market). Its history goes back to 1929, when William Boeing and Frederick B. Rentschler convinced their associates to form the United Aircraft Transport Corporation. Today, United Airlines boasts of more than 800 fleets. According to Statista, the company had 70 364 employees by 2020. Since it came into the market, the company has been engaged in several suits. Here, we shall look at the ten most significant lawsuits the company has ever been involved in.How to Determine the Biggest Lawsuits in the Company’s History?
When the word ‘big” is mentioned in the law field, many people think of the amount of money involved in the case. However, there are many ways of defining a lawsuit’s size. In determining the size of a lawsuit, there are several other factors to consider other than money, and they include:
- The amount of attention given to the lawsuits by other parties. The media and the federal government play a massive part in dramatizing a lawsuit. The more they are involved, the greater the lawsuit will be.
- The precedence of the case. Though some lawsuits will attract a small fine but still have, they will have far-reaching implications in the legal fields.
- The sensitivity of the parties involved. Society tends to pay attention to lawsuits that involve ‘persons of interest. They include the aged, physically challenged, and children.
- Relation between the suing and the responding party. In cases where employees sue their employers, they will have more attention compared to other situations, like when companies sue each other. Some legal scholars have called them ‘the small man versus big man’ suits.
The 20th century has been the most hectic in its history as far as lawsuits are concerned. As passengers continue to be more conscious of their rights and the emerging social media, cases against large corporations like United Airlines create great public uproar. In this article, we shall see how the company has been engulfed in legal suits by individuals, employees, and the federal government. Tag along.
10. United Airlines Versus the 23-year-Old Aktarer Zaman ($75,000)
With Orbitz, United Airlines sued the young Aktarer Zaman, arguing that his business Skiplagged.com was giving them unfair competition, yet it was dependent on their services. They demanded that the boy pay them $75,000 in lost revenue. To their surprise, Zaman stood his ground, and they both lost the case to him. According to the CNN Business, after the story was aired on CNN Money; he got so many donations which enabled him to pay his lawyers as well. What many thought would be the breaking point of Zaman turned out to be his success story. Major Tv Stations later interviewed him, and he used their platforms to advance his agenda. This case did not involve much money, but it is interesting how a young man could stand up against a $21 billion company with such confidence.
9. EEOC Versus United Airlines, Sexual Harassment Case ($321,000)
In 2019, the company agreed to pay $321 000 plus an attorney fee to settle a matter that the EEOC had brought on a sexual harassment lawsuit. EEOC alleged that, over a certain period, one of its pilots had taken explicit photos of a particular flight attendant without her consent. According to them, the images were seen by her workmates, which amounted to sexual harassment at the workplace. EEOC’s position was that it was the responsibility of the company to enforce good pilot behavior. The fact that the flight attendant had made several complaints over the same was used as substantial evidence. The company terminated the pilot and paid him his benefits, but the federal government launched a criminal against him for violating federal internet stalking laws. The case plays a significant role in demonstrating to employers that it is their responsibility to protect employees from sexual harassment.
8. Cheryl A. Gile V. United Airlines, Violation of the ADA ($500,000)
In 1996, Gile sued the airline for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. She alleged that United Airlines discriminated against her when it failed to reassign her duties during the day because her disability made her unable to work at night. Due to working long hours at night, Gile developed daytime fatigue and insomnia and sometimes could sleep in her car. When she raised the matter with the company, she was granted a leave of absence on medical grounds. After undergoing some rehabilitation, she went and, under the recommendations of a social worker, requested to work during the day. The company declined. She sued the company and lost the first time. However, when she appealed, a jury seated at the Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, awarded her $500,000 because she had demonstrated that she had attempted to rehabilitate herself, and the company failed to recognize so.
7. Lawsuit on Violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-Filed by EEOC ($1 million)
In 2015 the company paid $1 million for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law dictates an employer’s responsibility to provide accommodation to employees with a disability unless doing so would seriously hurt its finances. EEOC filed the matter in 2009. It’s one of the fiercest battles between the airline and the EEOC. The area of contention was that the company required employees with a disability to contest for vacant positions as one of the conditions of letting them stay. By doing so, it failed to observe the set standard that the first solution to such problems was to reassign the employee. The company entered into a violation consent and promised to revise its policy on ADA and retrain its human resource managers in handling such cases.
6. Flight Attendants Age Discrimination Lawsuit against the company ($2 million)
In 2022, the company was ordered to pay $2 million in compensation to two flight attendants it was found guilty of discriminating. The incident occurred in 2013 when the flight attendants, Jeannie Stroupe and Ruben Lee, retired for fear of being dismissed. Lee had more than 40 years of service, and Stroup had been with the airline for 29 years. Indeed, both were seen by the supervisor as violating the attendant’s rules. After leaving the company, they sued it and convinced a jury that the company’s witnesses were screwed and the investigation lacked credibility. They did not even protest that they had broken the rules, but they based their case on the fact that there is a punishment matrix that the company should have followed, and it failed to do so in their situation. This case is an eye-opener for companies to know that their internal policies are legally binding.
5. A class Lawsuit by Passengers who Felt Threatened During an Explosion in 2021 ($5 million)
In one of the most publicized cases, Unite Airlines was sued by 231 passengers for emotional distress caused by an explosion. According to The Herald, their representative’s position was that the airline ‘failed to inspect and maintain its aircraft that resulted in the engine failure”. They were seeking compensation of more than $5 million. The layer, Mr. Schnell, used preliminary results from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to argue how United Airlines neglected its duties. From this lawsuit, the companies can learn that if they do not take mandatory equipment inspections, they will be held responsible for any losses that may arise.
4. EEOC Versus United Airlines-Religious Discrimination case ($5.1 million)
The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the airline for failing to accommodate Buddhist pilots’ religious beliefs in 2020. The case emanated from the company’s refusal to modify its addiction treatment to suit a Buddhist pilot’s requests. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) canceled his certificate after being diagnosed with an alcohol addiction disorder. He had to undergo a United Airlines-sponsored Alcoholics Anonymous program to have his certificate.
The pilot contested the contents of the program and decided to attend a Buddhist support group. The company refused to recognize the Buddhist support group, so he could not get a flying certificate again. After raising his complaint with the EEOC, it went to court on his behalf. According to the EEOC, the matter was conjoined with other employees cases of a similar nature, and after three weeks’ trial, a jury awarded the employees $5.1 million.
3. David Dao Versus United Airlines, the case of a Passenger dragged off a Plane ($5 -$10 million)
According to the New York Times, David Dao, a doctor by profession, was dragged off a United Airlines Flight 3411 because the attendants said that it had been overbooked. Luckily, the incident was captured on video, and someone posted it online. There was a severe level of outrage over the incident. Dao sued the company for harassment and failure to respect his dignity. Things were so hot for the company that it agreed to settle the matter out of court.
The amount of money paid to Dao and his lawyer was only described as ‘confidential. However, a comparative analysis of authoritative media houses reported that the airline paid Dao a swooping amount of between $5-10 million. In the suit, the company agreed to streamline its passenger processing procedures. It also increased compensation for passengers who give out their seats from $1350 to $10,000. The company learned from this suit that it must train its employees not to use force when handling passengers, no matter how complicated.
2. The United States Postal Services Versus United Airlines ($49 million)
According to the Justice Department Report, the company entered into a contract with the United States Postal Service (USPS) so that it can be transporting its mail internationally. The contract demanded that United was to provide bar code scans of mail receptacles to USPS whenever they delivered the mail to the intended recipient. Between 2012 to 2015, the airline was involved in a scheme to defraud the USPS by submitting false delivery data. By the time the USPS realized that it had paid the underserved airline monies, the company had already milked much money from them. Being the aggrieved party, USPS went to court. However, the company opted to settle the matter out of court, arguing that it was just an act of unethical employees. It ended up paying $49 million as a fine.
1. The Flight #232 Crash Lawsuit Against United Airlines ($74 million)
In the infamous 1989 air disaster, the hydraulic control system of Flight #232 failed and crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, killing 111 out of the 296 onboard. The lawsuit propelled the name of Corby & Demetrio in legal circles. Thirty-nine clients represented by Corboy & Demetrio sued the company. The case drew the highest media coverage in the history of the company’s lawsuits. In 1992, the law firm announced it had secured a $25 million settlement for one of the deceased families. The family contracted the law firm to sue the airline for the death of a young millionaire who was going to survey a site for a new company. Corby & Demetrio secured a total sum of $74 million for all the 39 families it represented.
What Should United Airlines Do to Avoid Future Lawsuits?
In all the lawsuits discussed above, several things come out clearly. One was a form of negligence or failure by the company or its representatives. To eliminate this problem, the company should undertake intensive training of its personnel on legal matters. Secondly, many of the lawsuits touch on policy implementation. A picture of failed internal dispute resolution mechanism also comes out. The company must seek to know why all of these parties did not opt to settle the matter internally. Could there be a broken communication between it and the disputing parties? The company must engage the workers’ union to encourage internal dispute resolution. Class lawsuits are a by-product of poor public relationships. There needs to be an urgent adoption of policies encouraging line managers to pick problems and offer immediate mitigating solutions as they consult the legal team.
Many airlines are being sued for violations of human rights. Lawsuits are almost impossible to avoid, but there are adequate mechanisms that United Airlines can implement to ensure that it controls them. However, this does not mean avoiding media scrutiny. The company should hire the best legal teams and ensure that before any policy or major decision is taken, it is subjected to the company’s legal team. Sometimes it would be healthier to call for an external legal opinion on any issue the company takes.