Judge orders United Airlines to reinstate 1,400 flight attendants

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A federal judge has ordered United Airlines to reinstate hundreds of flight attendants who left the company in the 1960s because they were not allowed to marry and remain stewardesses.

In a 63-page opinion released Jan. 12, US District Court Judge James Moran told United to reinstate about 1,400 women covered by the class-action suit, subject to individual hearings. But he refused to grant them full seniority for the period of the 12-year lawsuit. Under the order, the reinstated flight attendants will join more than 1,000 other United flight attendants already on furlough without pay, but maintaining benefits, until they are called back to work by seniority.

Judge Moran has not yet decided on back pay for the plaintiffs, and both sides say they are waiting to work out further details before deciding whether to appeal the order.

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''This case is, in a real sense, a reflection of massive social changes in the 1960s, and the difficulties in fashioning a remedy derived in large part from the subsequent impact of those changes,'' Moran wrote in the opinion.

The Association of Flight Attendants, representing those currently employed or furloughed at United, had joined the suit as an intervener to guard the interests of its members, whose job situation has changed substantially in the last decade.

Until 1968, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled the practice in violation of the Civil Rights Act, most airlines employed only unmarried women as flight attendants. Now more flight attendants see their jobs as careers, and stay with them longer, according to Diane Robertson, chief of the AFA's United branch.

The judge's opinion noted that attendants today receive much higher real pay and benefits than they did in the 1960s. Moran had to decide how to force United to rehire the group without unduly harming a new group of attendants that includes more minorities and generally has more on-the-job seniority.

''We feel the job has shown a sensitivity to the current line flight attendants,'' AFA's Robertson said. ''The people on the line would be very adversely impacted if we had 1,400-plus people returning with full seniority.''

The plaintiffs orignally asked for full and immediate rehiring with full seniority, but the judge said the estimated $31 million cost of such reinstatement was too hard for United to bear. Experts at the hearings disagreed on how many new attendants United could hire but said the numbers were small relative to the number on furlough.

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