WASHINGTON, DC – A group of 18 African American pilots employed by United Airlines are holding a press conference with civil rights leaders including Dr Cornel West on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
On behalf of these pilots, the call is being made for Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a federal investigation into the hiring, promoting, training, discipline, diversity and equal employment practices of United Airlines.
The pilots have reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for assistance in their struggle for civil rights and equality. These African American pilots have pursued legal action and their civil rights claims are pending against United Airlines in federal courts around the nation for the company’s treatment of African Americans.
The pilots have formed a group called The United Coalition for Diversity (the “Coalition”). The Coalition is represented by Mildenberg Law Firm.
According to the pilots, United Airlines has had a complete and utter lack of diversity at the management level and a systemic culture of racism that has inhibited African Americans from obtaining managerial positions.
“It is time for all pilots to be provided with Equal Opportunities, regardless of the color of their skin,” said Brian R. Mildenberg, attorney for the pilots. “According to the coalition pilots, the executive leadership of United Airlines has failed over the years to integrate the airline and remedy the serious concerns of racial discrimination against black pilots that have plagued United for more than two decades.”
Although United Airlines hired an African American General Counsel in 2010 (Brett Hart, who, during 2016, became acting CEO while CEO Oscar Munoz was ill during leave of absence), the African American pilots are very disappointed with the executive leadership of United Airlines. During Mr. Hart’s tenure as General Counsel of United Airlines, and the Acting CEO, the Coalition members have seen little improvement in the workplace. The pilots have been forced to pursue legal claims and to engage in public advocacy to shine light on what they describe as retaliatory treatment and threats by United Airlines employees and managers.
Case Background – A Documented History of Discrimination at United Airlines
During the 1970s and through the 1990s United Airlines was required to hire African-American pilots under an EEOC consent decree. The Coalition pilots allege that some white Chief Pilots at United Airlines resented the hiring of African Americans under the consent decree, and formed a secret, racist organization called “The Vault,” with the express purpose to prevent African-American pilots from achieving professional advancement at United.
The Coalition pilots allege that white pilots have disparagingly referred to African-American pilots as “consent decree hires” and “equal opportunity hires.” In addition, in one pilot’s case, currently pending in federal court in Houston, TX (Case No. 15-cv-00474-VC), a photograph of a black man being lynched by a group of white supremacists was placed in the black United pilot’s United Airlines Flight Office mailbox, in Houston, with a note, “How to Move Up in Seniority at United Airlines.” In another case (1:13-cv-01125-LMB-TRJ), a paper was left in the mailbox of an African American Flight Attendant. This paper was called a “N**ger Tag – Federal N**ger Hunting License,” declaring that the holder was “licensed to hunt & kill N**GERS during the open search hereof in the U.S.” and purported to give “the holder permission to hunt day or night, with or without dogs.” A hand-drawn image of a person hanging from a pole or a tree appeared on one corner of the document, along with the words “this is for you.”
These are just a few examples of a long history of racial discrimination at United Airlines. Congressional hearings were held in the 1970s, leading to the federal Consent Decree, which required the airline to hire African American pilots. The Decree was terminated in the 1990s, but, unfortunately for the black pilots, racial discrimination has again reared its ugly head at United Airlines, and the pilots seek renewed Congressional intervention.
The Coalition pilots believe that Brett Hart, General Counsel of United Airlines, and Oscar Munoz, CEO, both of whom have been made well aware of these issues, have failed as leaders in an era requiring diversity and equal opportunity for all pilots, including pilots of color. The Coalition pilots further call for the Board of Directors of United Airlines to intervene. Under the current executive leadership of the airline, new pilot recruitment classes continue to be all or predominately white, and minorities are losing ground.
Some Coalition pilots settled racial discrimination claims against United Airlines in 2011. They thought United Airlines was serious about change. The pilots claim that settlement became a workplace joke when its existence was leaked by United management. Rumors were spread that the black pilots who made claims would never receive promotions. After the settlement, and during the tenure of Brett Hart, the threatening white supremacist note discussed above was left in a Coalition pilot’s mailbox. The Houston Police investigated the incident as a potential homicide threat. This is an extreme example of the serious concerns of racism at United Airlines against black pilots.
Although all of these concerns were brought to the attention of General Counsel Brett Hart and CEO Oscar Munoz by pilots in the Coalition, United has circled the corporate wagons, and to date, has engaged in actions designed to defeat and obstruct the black pilots’ cases for civil rights and equality. This brave group of black pilots of United Airlines have come forward to call for an end the racially exclusive practices of United Airlines. United has refused to agree to written reforms requested to assure fair practices and equal treatment for black pilots.
Besides their jobs as airline pilots, many pilots in the Coalition come from an Air Force or military background, and have served our Country honorably, many flying in foreign wars and missions. These black pilots, who include some of the most senior United pilots passengers will see flying United’s planes domestically and internationally, include a Green Beret, a former military intelligence pilot, and other military positions. Although the military trusted these pilots to fly sensitive missions for our Country, at United Airlines, they claim to be treated like second-rate citizens.
In addition to Dr. Cornel West, who will speak in support of the pilots, in attendance will be black aviation pioneers who fought a national civil rights battle to bring blacks on board to United and other airlines, who will speak to the ongoing lack of progress by United Airlines in this area, and who will support the call for Congressional investigation of racism against black pilots and other persons of color at United Airlines. The black pilots of the United Coalition for Diversity look forward to shedding light on United’s discriminatory practices through public advocacy, as well as testimony in Congress, courts, and executive agencies.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2016, AT 1:00 PM
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20045
Conference Room: Bloomberg Room