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 670 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.
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. More than 90% of these workers were over the age of 40, and many lost their federal pension benefits. 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 Judge Paul L. Friedman.
Cohen Milstein, as well as co-counsel from Gilbert Employment Law, P.C., 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 original lawsuit is styled: Breen v. Chao, 1:05-cv-00654, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.