Qantas in age discrimination case court setback

Federal Court has barred the airline from terminating a pilot until his case is heard by the Human Rights Commission

Qantas in age discrimination case court setback

Qantas is facing a setback in an age discrimination case brought by a pilot.

On Wednesday, the Federal Court granted an interim injunction to Captain Paul Summers, prohibiting Qantas from terminating him until his case could be heard by the Human Rights Commission, according to a report by The Australian.

Summers was one of 55 pilots that Qantas offered an early retirement package at the height of the COVID-19 crisis last year. He was offered the package because he was turning 65 prior to July 1, 2022. Pilots under 63 were given the option of taking voluntary redundancy, which was worth three times more than early retirement.

Summers, along with several other pilots, refused early retirement and chose to continue in his role as an A330 pilot. In December, Qantas ordered Summers to show cause why his position should not be terminated due to the rule banning pilots from long-haul flights once they turned 65.

Summers took issue with the order due to the fact that as an A330 pilot, he flew domestic and short-haul routes to which the “rule of 65” didn’t apply, along with long-haul routes, The Australian reported.

In the 12 months to March 30, 2020, Summers made 33 flights between Australian ports and 53 international flights, eight of which were classifiable as short-haul. On March 5, 2021 – two weeks after he turned 65 – Summers received a termination letter that said he was unable to meet the requirements of his position as a long-haul pilot.

Summers was also told he was unable to participate in Qantas’ rostering system. The system requires pilots to go on standby every 12 to 16 months to fill in on international flights. Summers, now 65, was no longer legally able to pilot those flights.

Qantas argued that it would have to modify the rostering system to accommodate Summers if he were allowed to continue as a pilot, The Australian reported. The airline also said that if the interim injunction were granted, there was a risk other pilots around his age would seek similar relief.

Judge Anna Katzmann said that Summers didn’t have a particularly strong case. However, she ruled that the challenges Qantas claimed to face by extending his employment were “overstated.” Katzmann said that the planned resumption of international flights on Oct. 31 seemed “fanciful” due to problems with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that in any case Summers was still able to pilot on domestic routes and flights to Singapore and New Zealand.

Her ruling instructed Qantas to keep Summers stood down unless he was able to be redeployed to short-haul flights or another position for which he was qualified, The Australian reported. The airline was also ordered to pay Summers’ court costs.

The ruling is also a potential blow to the airline in another age discrimination case. Captain Andrew Hewitt – son of former Qantas chairman Lenox Hewitt – was denied access to a redundancy package because he was turning 65 before July 1, 2022. Hewitt argued that denying the package to older pilots amounted to age discrimination, to their financial disadvantage.

Qantas argued that “all long-haul pilots in the same or similar circumstances to [Hewitt] were treated in the same manner.”

Both cases are expected to be heard in the coming weeks, The Australian reported.

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