Harry D. Leinenweber
Harry D. Leinenweber

An aircraft technician is on his own in a lawsuit accusing United Airlines Inc. of failing to provide accommodations that would allow disabled employees to continue working.

In a written opinion Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber struck the class allegations in a lawsuit Jose DeFreitas filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Leinenweber held the class DeFreitas proposed does not meet all the requirements for certification set out in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

In his action, DeFreitas says he worked for United for many years as an aircraft technician.

He became disabled by a degenerative cervical disk disease, which develops when the disks in the spine start to break down, DeFreitas alleges.

He maintains the disease has left him with neck pain that cannot be treated.

The disease also has left him unable to continue doing his job at United as an aircraft technician, DeFreitas alleges.

However, he contends, he could handle a sedentary job with the airline if given the opportunity.

He was not provided with that opportunity, DeFreitas maintains.

He applied for many sedentary jobs with United, he alleges, but was not accepted for any of them.

He eventually got a job with Federal Express as an aircraft maintenance adviser, DeFreitas says.

He alleges the Federal Express job is as demanding or more demanding than some of the positions he failed to receive at United.

DeFreitas proposed to pursue his suit on behalf of a class of employees who were unable to keep working in their position at United because of a physical or mental impairment.

Proposed class members also would have either been denied an available position at the airline that they could handle or got an equivalent position at another company.

The class would include employees who meet those requirements and who worked for United at any time since Jan. 25, 2014.

In his opinion, Leinenweber held the proposed class does not meet Rule 23’s requirement that the class members’ claims center on a common contention.

The contention must be “capable of classwide resolution,” Leinenweber wrote, quoting Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011).

A contention is capable of classwide resolution, he continued, quoting Wal-Mart Stores, if “determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke.”

DeFreitas’ suit might have been appropriate for class treatment if he was challenging a policy for placing disabled employees in new positions, Leinenweber wrote, citing Hendricks-Robinson v. Excel Corp., 164 F.R.D. 667 (C.D. Ill. 1996).

However, he wrote, “United does not have such a policy.”

And differences in the situations of the members of the proposed class defeat the possibility of handling their claims together, Leinenweber wrote.

Questions that would have to be answered on a case-by-case basis, he wrote, include whether the employee is disabled or is viewed by United as being disabled and whether there is a position available that the employee could handle, with or without an accommodation.

Other questions include what kind of accommodation would be needed and whether that accommodation is reasonable — in other words, whether the accommodation would “impose a hardship on the employer,” Leinenweber wrote.

He wrote such questions could not be resolved on a classwide basis.

Bolstering the case against class certification is the fact that the question of disability is “an individualized one and must be determined on a case-by-case basis,” Leinenweber wrote, quoting DePaoli v. Abbott Laboratories, 140 F.3d 668 (7th Cir. 1998).

The case is Jose DeFreitas v. United Airlines Inc., No. 19 C 3397.

DeFreitas is represented by Adam T. Waskowski
of Waskowski Johnson Yohalem LLP and Michael L. Fradin of Michael L. Fradin, Attorney at Law, in Skokie.

“We’re assessing our options with respect to the class claims,” Fradin said. “Either way, we will continue to pursue Mr. DeFreitas’ individual claims.”

United is represented by Shanthi V. Gaur and Amanda E. Inskeep, both of Littler Mendelson P.C.

Neither Gaur nor Inskeep could be reached for comment.