Southwest Pilot Union Lawsuit Lands Boeing In Court

A lawsuit brought by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) against Boeing was back in court today. While the case still has a while to run, SWAPA had a strategic victory today. Boeing wanted to switch the lawsuit to the U.S. Federal Court. But in a ruling today, the court said the case was staying in Texas, Southwest Airlines’ home state.

SWAPA’s lawsuit against Boeing will be heard in Texas. Photo: Bill Abbott via Flickr.

In a statement provided to Simple Flying, SWAPA’s President, Captain Jon Weaks said;

“We are very pleased with Judge Lynn’s decision and look forward to proceeding in Texas State Court as originally planned on behalf of our members.”

Texan court to hear the lawsuit

As reported today in Bloomberg, Chief Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn ruled against Boeing’s application. The aircraft manufacturer had asked to have the lawsuit heard in the U.S. Federal Court system. But today, the Judge said the state district court in Dallas County could hear the case.

Dallas based Southwest Airlines has 34 Boeing 737 MAXs sitting idle. Those planes have been grounded since March 2019. Southwest Airlines pilots get paid according to how much time they spend in the air. With those 34 MAXs not flying, SWAPA says more than 30,000 Southwest flights have been canceled. That’s a lot of income foregone by its pilot members.

Incendiary allegations of fraud, negligence, and interference

In October 2019, SWAPA filed a lawsuit against Boeing. The allegations were incendiary. SWAPA alleged Boeing deliberately mislead the organization and its pilots about the 737 MAX
aircraft, accusing Boeing of negligence, interference, and fraud.

In a statement issued at the time, SWAPA said;

“SWAPA pilots agreed to fly the 737 MAX aircraft based on Boeing’s representations that it was airworthy and essentially the same as the time-tested 737 aircraft that its pilots have flown for years. These representations were false.”

SWAPA accuses Boeing of fraud, interference, and negligence. Photo: Tomos Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons.

SWAPA says its pilot members had lost over USD$100 million in income, and the union sued Boeing for compensation. But Boeing had no intention of letting these allegations slide. It denied them and said they would defend themselves. In a statement to Simple Flying, Boeing said at the time;

“We believe this lawsuit is meritless and will vigorously defend against it.”

Boeing declined to comment on today’s court decision.

What today’s court ruling means

Today’s court ruling says the US Federal Court system doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit. While the Federal Court hears a wide range of cases, its core business is dealing with matters that involve the United States Government, the U.S. Constitution, or other federal laws.

Last year, Boeing filed an application to have the lawsuit heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas under the Class Action Fairness Act. The U.S. District Courts are the general trial courts of the U.S. federal court system. Boeing argued the court had jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.

Today’s court decision is a win for Southwest’s pilots. Photo: Liz West via Flickr.

Boeing argued the U.S. Federal Court had preemption. Preemption is the right to hear a case first, should the court choose to do so. But Judge Lynn disagreed today. A written ruling found the matter was not a class action and not one of federal jurisdiction. The Judge sent the matter back to the local Texan courts.

A strategic win for Southwest Airlines pilots

While today’s decision could be seen as a mere road bump for Boeing, the effect is to keep the lawsuit in Southwest’s home state. Many of SWAPA’s pilot members live in Dallas County, and the local judiciary would be acutely aware of the impact the MAX groundings have had on their local homegrown airline. Today’s court decision is a strategic win for SWAPA.