One Year After Smith Patten Files Race Discrimination Complaint on Behalf of
African-American Employees, United Airlines Initiates
Senior-Level Management Changes
SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- (Marketwired) -- 04/10/13 -- Nearly one year
after employees of United Continental Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: UAL)
filed a lawsuit alleging race discrimination, retaliation, and
harassment, the company has announced that Senior Vice President of
Flight Operations Fred Abbott, who is responsible for developing and
implementing pilot contracts, policies, and procedures, will step
down. Mr. Abbott set forth a clear statement of retaliatory animus
when, according to Johnson v. United Continental filings, he said
that none of the group of UAL Captains and Operations Supervisors who
filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) in 2010 would ever get promoted because they had decided to go
the litigation route.
Despite changes made to UAL's senior-level management structure in
the wake of the 2010 EEOC complaints -- namely the company's hiring
of African-American General Counsel Brett Hart and promotion of
African-American James Simons to Chief Pilot of the Northeast Region
-- widespread race discrimination persists at the world's largest
airline and well qualified African-Americans are still being
systematically shut out of management, according to the Plaintiffs.
Furthermore, since filing Johnson v. United Continental in May 2012,
Plaintiffs have become victims of illegal retaliation and endured
harassment for speaking out against UAL's long history of unlawful
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of
California, the Johnson v. United Continental complaint claims that
UAL violated federal and state laws by maintaining policies that have
a disparate impact on African-Americans' opportunities for
promotions. Plaintiffs also allege that the company systematically
engages in an ongoing practice of intentional discrimination in
assignments and promotions against its African-American Captains and
"We have historically not been provided the same opportunities to
advance into management as Caucasian employees, and we simply want a
level playing field," said Los Angeles-based Captain Mario Ecung.
"There needs to be a thoroughly transparent, fair, and competitive
process in place so that qualified employees can apply, and will be
considered, for management positions."
Despite their nearly 600 years of combined experience with UAL, not
one of the 23 Plaintiffs has ever held a permanent mid- or
senior-level management position at the company. While non-minorities
are being groomed for management through temporary Special Assignment
positions -- which are more lucrative and provide employees with more
opportunities for advancement and greater job security --
African-Americans are excluded.
Plaintiffs brought this case in Northern California due to the large
number of Special Assignments -- and consequent promotions -- at
UAL's largest maintenance facility and Asian hubs on the West Coast.
Furthermore, the online job posting and application web service
Taleo, which UAL has used for many years to track management
applications, is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Acquired by
Oracle Corp. earlier this year, Taleo's servers hold data reflecting
who applied for which positions, who made the selections, and
ultimately who received the promotions.
"The employment records concerning promotions at United are on
Taleo's servers," said Dow W. Patten, of Smith Patten, attorneys for
the Johnson v. United Continental plaintiffs. "The servers are here,
the data is here, and Oracle can try to hide it all they want, but
the employment records that are at issue in this case are located in
Dublin, California, near San Francisco."
UAL has a long history of race discrimination issues dating back to
the 1970s. In the 1995 release from the EEOC Consent Decree against
United Airlines, Judge Hubert Will commented, "We caution that our
conclusion is not a determination that employment discrimination may
no longer be a problem at United..." but that "any current disputes
are properly addressed through fresh complaints to United and the
"This is the fresh complaint," stated Captain Richard John about
Johnson v. United Continental. "This is the complaint of those who
have met face-first the glass ceiling repercussions of the consent
decree, who have made complaints and worked for change, only to be
met with more of the same."
In 2010, current United CEO Jeff Smisek stated, "There is a part of
Continental's history that I am not proud of... I had never heard of
Continental Airlines, but Marlon Green [an African American pilot]
had, and he wanted to work for us... Did we turn him down because the
other candidates were more highly qualified than him? No. We turned
him down for one reason and one reason only, because of the color of
his skin." At the 2010 national convention, the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution
entitled "In Support of More Diversity and Advancement at United
Airlines and Other Air Carriers", calling upon United to proactively
address the lack of opportunity in senior management positions.
"These brave Supervisors and Captains are continuing the struggle for
equal opportunity in the airline industry started by the Tuskegee
Airmen and Marlon Green, among others," said Spencer F. Smith, of
Smith Patten. "This lawsuit serves to ensure that there will be no
more Band-Aids for this long-festering discrimination at United. Only
transparency and a structural commitment to change will ensure that
the glass ceiling into senior management at United is finally
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