A United Airlines pilot, hired in April 2022, was terminated after less than two months at the carrier “because he struggle[s] to discern different colors while flying at night.” The pilot is suing.
- He had just become eligible for long-term disability, and filed a claim.
- The airline says that his condition meant he was ineligible to be hired in the first place.
The pilot was unable to fly less than a month after being hired. He “couldn’t determine the colors of signals on taxiways” and couldn’t fly at night. However he claims that there’s ‘no evidence’ he had this condition when he was hired, he could have developed it in the weeks that followed.
The good news is that no one disputes that he shouldn’t be flying. The question is, should United be on the hook for his disability claim?
I lived in California as a teenager and my family was in the car business there. A mechanic in their repair shop cheated on his wife, and contracted an STD. He denied the affair, though, claiming he’d gotten the clap being bitten by a spider that was under the hood of a car he was working on.
He was ‘all in’ on the story. His wife felt that if he was injured at work, he should file for workers comp. It didn’t matter that’s not how STDs work. They’re called sexually transmitted for a reason. He needed to sell it, and that meant filing a (false) claim with California. And he got it. The state government helped keep his marriage together. In that case my family’s workers comp coverage got dinged with a claim it shouldn’t have.
Another frequent issue in California was hiring workers who would get injured on the job right away. The record was one employee who cut his finger during the first 10 minutes on the job, changing an oil filter on his car. Usually it took at least a few hours for an intentional workplace injury. The goal was getting hired in order to file a claim.
I’m not saying that a pilot tried to get hired by a commercial airline in order to file a disability claim. There will be a fact-based inquiry into the plausibility that the pilot’s medical issue could have developed post-hire, and whether or not that matters, for instance if it was possible that the pilot did not know at time of hire whether he was medically ineligible for the position.
I share this story because airlines are a microcosm for society, and have to deal with issues far beyond just flying aircraft from one place to another. Sometimes the question of who bears responsibility for a cost is a matter of timing and (good or bad) luck.