Remember those Continental pilots who were fired and sued by their airline for allegedly arranging "sham" divorces in order to get their mitts on fat pensions a whole lot earlier than Continental's policy allows?
Well, it turns out one of those former pilots was a bona-fide hero. Or at least that's what it states in his counterclaim; one of four filed in federal court today alleging wrongful retaliatory discharge, wrongful interference, and age discrimination.
According to Douglas Schull's counterclaim, in April 2000, the ex-pilot "saved the lives of 220 passengers, the lives of his crew, and many lives on the ground after the left engine on a Continental DC-10 broke apart during takeoff on a flight from Newark to Brussels, Belgium."
The white-knuckle suspense doesn't stop there: "The exploding metal engine fragments nearly disabled the right engine, punched basketball-sized holes in the wings and fuselage, and severely damaged the landing gear and tires. Despite this, Captain Schull maneuvered the DC-10 in a ring around the Newark airport for the next half hour while dumping fuel, and landed the crippled aircraft with no injuries. Captain Schull's heroism was widely recognized in the airline industry, including...an award from the Flight Safety Foundation."
Dude sounds like a badass. But unfortunately, he and Mrs. Badass divorced in a Colorado district court in 2005, and she was awarded Schull's full pension fund. Continental thought nothing of it, paying Schull's ex-wife his $775,577 pension in one lump sum. It wasn't until the Schulls reconciled and remarried in 2007 that Continental thought it smelled a rat.
"Continental demanded that Captain Schull answer highly personal, unreasonably intrusive, and humiliating questions from Continental management about his marriage, family relationships, finances, and sex life," the counterclaim says.
Specifically, the counterclaim states, Continental demanded documents "relating to the transfer of real and personal property pursuant to the divorce decree"; "living and sleeping arrangements"; finances, cell phone records and other information.
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The other counterclaims have identical language, although each of course details the particulars of each couples' divorce and remarriage. (Weirdly, for the couples with younger kids, they all decided to get back together after they noticed that -- gasp -- divorce takes an emotional toll on a child. If this really was such a surprise to them, someone needs to call CPS, because they're too dumb to raise kids).
In addition to punitive damages, the ex-pilots are suing for back pay, loss of wages and benefits, mental anguish, and "reinstatement, or if reinstatement is deemed not feasible, front pay."
Continental Spokeswoman Julie King told us in an e-mail, "A small number of pilots engaged in improper activity that threatens the pension assets used to pay the pension benefits of all our pilots. The law requires that Continental and other fiduciaries of the pension plan take appropriate steps to protect these assets."
Make sure to stay tuned for more developments in this soap opera.