A federal judge today dismissed travel agent Sarah Hall’s
class-action lawsuit against the major airlines, shocking agents’
attorneys who thought the antitrust case was ready to move forward.
The decision came just a month after Judge W. Earl Britt
approved the first settlement in the suit, an agreement that called
for Lufthansa to establish a “bonus program” for agents.
“The court is not convinced that (plaintiffs) presented evidence
to support an inference of concerted action” to reduce commissions
on the part of the carriers, Britt wrote in granting the airlines’
request for summary judgment.
Britt’s harshly worded opinion said attorneys for agents had not
provided evidence that the airlines’ drop in commissions wasn’t the
result of “competitive conduct and natural changes in the
“I’m very disappointed,” said Daniel Shulman, one of the
co-counsels representing Hall. “I think he was way off base and I
think he ignored our evidence.”
Shulman said the decision would be appealed to the 4th Circuit
Court of Appeals.
At the recent ASTA convention in Miami, Hall attorney Andy
Anderson said meetings of Passenger Tariff Coordinating Conferences
and International Air Transport Association (IATA) constituted a
“smoking gun” in the case.
But Britt labeled that argument as “ludicrous.”
Britt addressed the cases against each carrier individually, in
each instance deriding the agents’ arguments.
For example, “Plaintiffs have shown no evidence of knowledge of
or participation in any illegal scheme by Alaska whatsoever,” Britt
wrote (italics his).
Evidence against Air France “essentially amounts to sinister
insinuations and untenable inferences that shatter in sheer
speculation,” he wrote.
Britt concluded that it is “perfectly legitimate for an airline
to consider publicly available information about what a competitor
is paying travel agents in setting one’s own commissions.”