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Privacy Law

Airline’s Sham Divorce Case Over Pilot Pension Payments Doesn’t Fly

Posted Oct 20, 2009 1:22 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Nine Continental Airlines pilots apparently thought they had found a wily way to get around benefits rules when they divorced their wives, which allowed the women to collect pension money in a lump sum, and then remarried their ex-spouses. And they were right, according to a federal judge's ruling yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller yesterday dismissed the airline's suit against the pilots accusing them of getting sham divorces, finding that it's not the job of employers and pension plan administrators to determine the validity of divorces, reports the Houston Chronicle. The couples allegedly continued to live together as families even after the divorces, which they kept secret from their children and friends.

The pilots, most of whom were fired in 2007 and 2008 after they refused Continental's demand to repay the pension money, are still pursing counterclaims for back pay and damages in the Southern District of Texas case. They also apparently are at least contemplating invasion of privacy claims, according to the newspaper, over a private investigation launched by the airline of their marriages.

"Continental spent a year and a half investigating the personal and family lives of nine of its pilots on the pretext of trying to administer its pension fund,” says attorney Steven Mitby of Ahmad Zavitsanos and Anaipakos, which represents five of the pilots. “The court determined that an employer cannot engage in these forms of privacy intrusion as part of its pension funds program.”

The airline, which is still evaluating its appeal options, says in a written statement that the judge's ruling doesn't determine “the propriety of Continental's termination of the pilots' employment,” and adds that the airline and plan adminstrators "still believe that the domestic relations orders were improper and to the detriment of plan beneficiaries as a whole.”

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