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Training Contracts, are they Enforceable?

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Member since 1999
Nov 26, 2001
Question for all you lawyer types out there?:

What is the current legal status of the enforceability of employee/employer pilot training contracts?

According to "Black's Law Dictionary" these contracts would be defined as an "Adhesion Contract".

A standard form contract prepared by one party, to be signed by the party in a weaker position, usu. a consumer, who has little choice abot the terms- Also termed take-it-or-leave it contract; leonine contract; adhesory contrac; adhesionary contract.

If, the contract is signed from a position of weakness does this affect the enforceability?

What does't thou say you legal experts?

DesertFalcon ;)
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Adhesion contracts

First off, I'm not a lawyer. With that out of the way, I looked it up in my Black's, and, yes, you're right, an adhesion contract is a standard form that is basically take it or leave it. However, my Black's says that, "[h]owever, not every such contract is unconscionable." Black's Law Dictionary, abridged 6th. ed (1983), at p. 25. So, it might be a contract of adhesion, but it doesn't mean the court will set it aside. You would have to prove that you really had no choice but to sign it.

An important word about proof. The proof must rise to a very high level to sustain a case. People are very quick to pull the trigger and threaten suit when things happen that they don't like. The Rules of Court say that when a lawyer signs his/her name to suit papers that he/she is certifying that he/she has read the papers and is certifying that the complaint is well grounded in facts and law. Otherwise, the lawyer risks dismissal of the case and being responsible for the Defendant's attorneys' fees and costs, etc. because it was a frivilous claim. So, you can bet your a$$ that the lawyer will be sure that a case is very strong before filing suit. Plenty of bad things happen to people, but they don't always rise to the level that would merit a full-blown legal claim. I know that sucks, that you can't always get redress in the legal system, but that's how it is sometimes.

Usually, training contracts are pro-rated over their lifetime. So, let's say you sign a training contract in which you agree to reimburse the company $1K. You leave shortly thereafter, so you are responsible, theoretically, for the $1K. But, as the contract winds down, the payback amount goes down. You leave before the contract is up and the company decides if it is worth it to to pursue collection action against you. Sometimes, pursuing the claim may cost more than the amount you owe and the company might decide just to write it off.

I signed a standard form training contract when I went to work for FlightSafety nearly eleven years ago. I left after a year, but with two months left on my contract. No one said a thing.

Hope that helps a little.
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Hey Jim,
Do you think the company's that make us sign these things have integrity? What if they are illegal? Same answer?
My $.02

You did sign a contract...It is safe to assume that you did read the contract and didn't have gun to your head. Unless it is for a good reason, such as a saftey concern or being asked to engage in illegal activities. I would own up to the contract and be a pilot with some integrity.

Give us some insight to your story?

I say when airlines start treating their pilots with integrity, you should treat them back with them same. It's a personal choice...if the company has treated you like dirt...I'd walk away from the contract. If you walk away feeling guilty about it, then they haven't been treating you too bad and you should pay it off. You risk legal action if you break the contract. Try to find out how it's worked out for others who haven't paid, if you can.

Scenic has always had low pay....perhaps they should pay their pilots more if they don't like the turnover rates.
Look at the possible effects of what you are saying and then ask if it is reasonable to walk away.

For example, if it was ethical or legal for weaker parties to walk away the next step would be to take away the abilities of weaker parties to enter in to legal contracts. Doesn't sound so great.

So "walking away" is wrong. I guess you could consider it a protest and claim they didn't live up to a part of their agreement with you.
Jim posted:

"People are always equating PFT with a lack of professionalism. Well breaking a training contract without paying is the same thing. And it's also one of the justifications airlines use for PFT - control pilot training costs due to high turnover. "

The problem with training contracts is that they're binding only on one party: The employee must agree to work for a period of time, but the employer is under no obligation to provide the employment. This disparity has led to most being declared unenforcable when the matter ends up in court. Scholars look back in horror on the practice of bondage that was common in the early days of our history, and judges generally put training contracts on the same scale.

The pilot signing a training contract has agreed to work for the company in question no matter what the working conditions and airworthiness of the equipment, and regardless of reductions in pay and benefits. On the other hand, the company can fire, lay off, or go out of business without regard to the effect on an employee. The employee may have incurred considerable expense relocating for the job, and likely turned down or stopped pursuing other employment, but this is not recognized in most contracts. The financial cost to most pilots going to a new job exceeds the cost of the training, yet the employee has no way to recoup expenses if the deal goes sour due to the fault of the employer.

The major problem for a pilot who leaves early is that companies routinely turn the matter over to a third-party collection agency. It will probably take at least a letter from a lawyer threatening a damage suit to get them off your back and to keep your credit history clean.

One other point on which I wasn't clear enough above. Although the contract could be a contract of adhesion, you might have to do quite a bit of convincing to prove it. This is because such training contracts are an extremely common business practice. People sign them all the time, and that makes them acceptable and not necessarily unconscionable. Moreover, you can be sued for breach of contract. I was saying above that depending on the amount owed on the contract they might opt to forget about it - but, they might not.

Just something else to consider.

TDvalve's comments above are well-taken and well-reasoned. Let me suggest a good book on employment law, Every Employee's Guide to the Law, by Lewin G. Joel, III, ISBN: 0-679-75867-4. I found it on bn.com and used copies are available on amazon.com. Something like $15 at bn.com for the newest edition. It is an excellent book on general employment law, including hiring practices and unions, and is well documented.
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Jim you are wasting your time. There are two kinds of folks in the world. There are those that honor their word and there are those that don't. Those that don't will rationalize and make excuses to justify their weaknesses. Sadly, they see folks like you and I as foolish. You will never change their minds.

I turned down a job with Scenic because I knew I wouldn't be able to honor the training contract and I couldn't afford to pay them back. I was furloughed at the time.

It doesn't matter whether or not the contract is fair. If you signed it and the company upheld their end you are morally obligated to honor your end of the bargain. Like it or not. It's called character.

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