N.C. agent to add zero pay to airline suit

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina agent suing airlines for a series of commission cuts is adding the elimination of base pay to her complaint. The airlines, however, are arguing the judge should not certify the case as a class action because there is too much variation in the way agents are compensated.

"It is simply impossible to determine, on a class-wide basis, the damages allegedly resulting from the commission reductions," American, Continental, Delta, Midwest Express, Northwest, United and US Airways said in a joint filing April 5.

The damages cannot be determined on a class-wide basis, the airlines continued, "because of the varying arrangements each of the travel agencies has with the defendant airlines, and because of the varying contractual arrangements each of the travel agencies has with its various customers,"

Of course, the attorneys for Sarah Hall -- the owner of Travel Specialist in Wilmington, N.C., and initiator of the suit -- have argued differently.

In their filing, the attorneys told the judge the agents would be seeking to recover damages for their losses based on "common legal and factual theories."

Hall's attorneys -- Anderson, Daniel & Coxe in Wrightsville Beach -- also cited cases they said showed it should not matter if the proposed class received different commissions. One cited case said such variations did not change the central and common element of a complaint.

With a class action, and an eventual victory over the airlines, all of the agents in the country could potentially receive compensation even if they do not actively join the lawsuit.

The question of whether to certify the case as a class action will be left to the judge hearing the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division. But he won't be making that decision until sometime after all the airlines named in the lawsuit file their responses.

All of the U.S. airlines had to file their responses by April 5, but most of the foreign carriers have until mid-May. There is no timetable as to when the judge must rule.

Even if the judge certifies the case as a class action, however, absent a settlement the case won't be resolved quickly. Under the current schedule, the trial would begin next April.

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