During the pandemic airlines were gifted billions in taxpayer dollars to keep all of their employees on staff, ready to work when travel returned. Only they didn’t do that. They convinced employees to retire early, and they paid employees to stay home rather than staying certified and work ready.
As they tried to get employees to take unpaid leaves and early retirements, the offers sometimes got better and better. One United Airlines employee, who took an ‘early out’ is suing because United made a better offer than the one they accepted, and they want that better offer too.
A retired flight attendant sued United Airlines in Illinois federal court Tuesday, claiming the airline illegally blocked her and other retirees from accessing benefits and additional pay through “early-out” severance programs, which the airline maintains are actually paid leaves of absence.
Micheal Hoffman, 64, lodged her complaint Tuesday under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and seeks to bring her claims on behalf of a proposed class of other United retirees who she said were also prevented from obtaining early-out benefits under two of the airline’s programs.
…Hoffman qualified for the Voluntary Separation Program 2, or VSP2, which rolled out in 2020 and offered health care and retirement benefits, the complaint said.
But after learning about another severance program that rolled out after she’d retired under VSP2, which she claimed offered significantly better benefits — including an additional $112,500 in pay and a $125,000 health care account contribution — she tried to switch into the second program.
United maintains they didn’t actually offer early retirement, they offered leaves you can’t come back from. Ok then.
But if they did offer early outs (they did) an employee receives the offer they accepted, it doesn’t matter if a better offer came along later.
Except, the employee maintains, United Airlines explicitly promised that they could. From the complaint:
The “A Message from Oscar” (referenced in the VSP2 FAQ) states: “Many of you have told me that you are holding off on retirement, waiting to see if the company offers another early out. I want to be upfront and transparent with you about our future plans, so you can make the best plans for yourself and your family. So, to give you greater confidence when you do make the decision to retire, I’ve asked to add a new clause to our retirement policy. If something dramatic happens in the industry and we decide to offer an early out within 36 months after you retire, you would be eligible for the financial benefits of the program even after retiring.”
So the question is it seems whether that promise made is, in fact, binding on future early out offers.