GoJet Can’t Shake $ 400,000 Jury Prize in Pilot’s FMLA Case – 7th Circuit

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  • Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, PC

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(Reuters) – A US appeals court has dismissed attempts by GoJet Airlines LLC to overturn a judgment of $ 426,000 for a former pilot who was fired after being diagnosed with diabetes, and ordered a federal judge to consider granting him even more.

A unanimous panel of three judges from the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals said Thursday that an Illinois federal judge was correct in ruling that a collective agreement between GoJet and plaintiff John Cloutier’s union would fail. ‘did not require them to arbitrate their claims and send the case to a jury.

Cloutier, who also practices real estate law and has represented himself in the lawsuit, and Richard Grossman, who argued the appeal on his behalf, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither GoJet, based in Missouri, nor his lawyers at Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart.

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GoJet hired Cloutier in 2008, and six years later he was diagnosed with type II diabetes. The Federal Aviation Administration prohibits pilots diagnosed with diabetes from flying for at least 60 days and until they receive a medical certificate from the agency.

Cloutier informed GoJet of his need to take 60 days of medical leave after meeting with an FAA medical examiner. The Family and Medical Leave Act grants workers up to 12 weeks unpaid leave.

He received an email from his manager over a month later requesting a doctor’s note, but didn’t see the email for another three weeks and by that time it had been terminated, according to the documents filed in the case.

Cloutier received a medical certificate from the FAA one day after his FMLA leave expired. He sued GoJet in 2015, accusing the airline of interfering with its rights under the FMLA.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly rejected GoJet’s offers to refer the case to arbitration and dismiss the case. After a jury trial on liability, Kennelly awarded Cloutier more than $ 426,000 in 2019.

GoJet appealed, arguing that its bargaining agreement with Cloutier’s union required arbitration of disputes arising from applicable laws such as the FMLA.

The company also argued that Kennelly should have dismissed the case because Cloutier could not have returned to work after 12 weeks off and failed to provide timely notice of his need for the time off.

The 7th Circuit on Friday said the bargaining deal did not include a clear statement that the FMLA’s claims should proceed through arbitration, and that it was not enough for a reference to the law to appear in a separate section. of the arbitration provision.

And Kennelly was right to take the case to court, as it was unclear whether a faster response from GoJet would have allowed Cloutier to receive his medical certificate sooner, circuit judge Joel Flaum wrote for the court. .

The panel also agreed with Cloutier that Kennelly erred in determining that GoJet owed approximately $ 50,000 in upfront payment, and was fired on this matter. The judge compared Cloutier’s earnings working 75 hours a month for GoJet to what he earned in 90 hours in a lower-paying job with another airline.

“The approval of the district court’s inconsistent monthly labor figures… risks creating a perverse incentive for future FMLA plaintiffs to work less in their new jobs,” Flaum wrote.

The panel included circuit judges Daniel Mannion and Michael Kanne.

The case is Cloutier v. GoJet Airlines LLC, 7th United States Court of Appeals, No. 19-1322.

For Cloutier: Richard Grossman

For GoJet: David Schenberg of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart

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Daniel Wiessner

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor, employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy development. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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