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Houston Commercial Litigation Firm AZA Wins Appeal in Continental Pilot Divorce Case
July 2, 2011

HOUSTON – The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with a group of Continental Airlines pilots in a dispute with the airline over early pension benefit payouts and the legality of their divorces, lawyers from Houston-based complex commercial litigation law firm of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. announced Tuesday.

AZA attorneys Joseph Ahmad and Steve Mitby, along with Houston attorney Howard Dulmage, represent five of nine Continental pilots who resigned or were fired by Continental after they divorced and remarried their former spouses. Continental claimed the pilots divorced in order to take advantage of a loophole in federal pension law allowing divorced spouses to collect pension payments before the worker retires.

The pilots’ lawyers argued that Continental’s pension plan administrator improperly investigated the good faith of their legal divorces and filed a counterclaim seeking damages and back pay.

In October 2009, Houston-based U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled in the pilots’ favor, saying employers and pension plans may not consider an employee’s motivation for obtaining a divorce. The appellate court on Monday upheld the lower court’s ruling.

“We’re grateful our clients were vindicated and that employers can’t engage in this kind of privacy intrusion,” says Mr. Mitby. “The court affirmed those principles and created precedent that protects others when it stated categorically that pension plans should not be investigating the private lives of employees.”

The 5th Circuit case is Glenn Brown; Betsy Brown v. Continental Airlines, Inc. and The Continental Pilots Retirement Plan Administrative Committee, Continental Airlines, Inc. v. Glenn Brown et al., No. 10-20015.

Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, securities fraud, construction, and business dispute cases. AZA is one of only 32 firms in the U.S. to be recognized as “awesome opponents” in a nationwide poll of corporate general counsel who were asked to name the law firms they hope their companies never have to face in court. In fact, AZA has been hired on many occasions by the same companies the firm has prevailed against at trial.

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