FAA workers weigh legal action in pay cap dispute

Workers unhappy with caps on compensation ponder lawsuit to accompany their EEOC age discrimination complaint.

A group of FAA employees unhappy with caps on their compensation might pursue their grievance in the federal courts, according to people involved in the complaint.

The group filed a complaint earlier this year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging age discrimination, because most of those affected by the cap are experienced older workers.

But "nothing's been happening with the EEOC," said Tim O'Hara, the leader of the group. "We expected at this point to at least have a hearing scheduled with them. We've heard nothing from them. Literally nothing."

The EEOC did not comment on the FAA case.

Under the FAA's pay for performance system, almost 2,000 long-term employees are at the top of their pay bands and cannot receive base salary increases. While they are eligible for annual awards for good performance, they say they are losing thousands of dollars in retirement benefits, locality pay increases and overtime pay.

At the same time, thousands of other FAA employees are not affected by the salary freeze because of union agreements, or because they already were above the maximum pay limit when the rule on pay caps went into effect. Employees with frozen base salaries have alleged that the differing compensation rules are unfair. Agency officials say that the solution to the disparity is to bring more employees under the pay cap system, not to exempt the affected 2,000.

On Feb. 28, the employees filed a class-action complaint with the FAA's equal employment opportunity office. That complaint subsequently was forwarded to the EEOC. Since then, "EEOC hasn't done anything, and people are concerned about that," said Barbara Kraft, an attorney representing the employees. "I am surprised that it is taking this long."

Kraft said, however, that she is not implying that there is any intentional delay on the part of the government. "I know that the EEOC is very busy," she said. "All of these enforcement agencies have resources issues."

The FAA employees still will pursue their complaint with the EEOC, but they are also lining up behind one worker, in the hopes that a federal district court judge might allow the employee's complaint to be converted into a class action lawsuit.

According to Kraft, the FAA employees will attempt to pursue their complaints on parallel tracks while not sacrificing their rights in either forum.

"We feel like we are in between a procedural rock and a hard place," she said. "The concern is not to waive any rights."