Airlines Loses Case Questioning Validity of Pilots’ Divorces

If you’re one of those people who think that your divorce or pending divorce — the details, the underlying causes, the outcome — is really no one else’s business, especially your employer’s, you’ll probably be in strong agreement with the recent federal appeals court decision in a case concerning Continental Airlines and a number of its former pilots.

Those pilots — nine of them — were sued by the airline after they got what the ex-employer called “sham” divorces. Continental alleged that the reason for the divorces was to enable the divorced spouse in each case to take advantage of a federal law that allowed her — and “him” in two of the instances — to demand and receive all the pilot’s accrued pension benefits immediately and not at the time the pilot retired. After receiving the benefits, the same couples remarried in all nine instances.

A number of other airlines turned over their pension duties to the government in previous years, and Continental argued that the pilots feared the same might happen with their employer and leave them with reduced benefits.

Thus, claimed Continental, the divorces, which it asked the judicial system to adjudge as fake and, ergo, not legally valid.

A lower court refused to do that, ruling that it is not the legal prerogative of an employer to scrutinize the reasons for a worker’s divorce or whether it is real. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling on July 19 and dismissed the lawsuit.

Legal counsel for the pilot touted the decision as “a victory for employee privacy rights.”

Related Resource: ABC News, “Pilots Win ‘Sham-Divorce’ Case Against Continental” July 20, 2011

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