By: Christina Wilkie
The myth of Donald Trump reached its zenith in 1988, the year that his book, The Art of the Deal, was published. That year, Trump bought the Plaza Hotel, a crown jewel of New York real estate; he also bought a 282-foot yacht, and a fleet of airplanes owned by Eastern Air, which he renamed the Trump Shuttle.
This airline would be among the first of Trump’s companies to be sued for violating laws aimed at protecting the jobs of military veterans who are called up for service.
Fast forward 30 years, and Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, having mounted a successful outsider’s bid in part around his promises to take care of America’s veterans.
Yet in at least three cases, Trump’s companies have either fired, or refused to hire, military reservists because of the time commitments demanded of them by their service in the armed forces. The veterans involved have sued Trump for violating the laws meant to protect them from precisely these types of penalties. And in all three cases, Trump and his companies have settled the suits.
The Huffington Post already reported on the first two of these cases — one involving an Air Force senior master sergeant fired from the Trump Institute in 2007, and one an Army staff sergeant fired from her job at Trump University that same year.
These two cases, however, have a predecessor. On May 27, 1988, United States Air Force Col. Charles Beattie submitted orders to his bosses at Eastern Airlines, where he worked as a pilot.
According to the orders, Beattie was to attend the elite Industrial College of the Armed Forces for nine months, starting in August. As required by law, Eastern Airlines granted Beattie a leave of absence to fulfill his military service commitment.
While Beattie was deployed to the Industrial College, a high-flying Donald Trump, just 42 years old, bought Eastern Air for $365 million.
Beattie and Trump were practically the same age. Beattie had graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1967, just a year before Trump got his degree from Wharton. After college, Beattie flew C-130s in combat during the Vietnam War.
Trump, however, avoided serving in Vietnam — he got four student deferments from the draft and a medical disqualification for bone spurs in his foot. When Beattie returned home from combat, he stayed in the reserves, retiring from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1993 as a full colonel.
Everyone, including Eastern Air executives, thought Trump had paid too much for the troubled carrier. But Trump, determined to put his name on a fleet of jumbo jets, was ecstatic. At the launch of the new Trump Shuttle, guests were treated to a string quartet and champagne. Asked by a reporter whether the airline takeover was boost to his ego, Trump replied, “Truthfully, it was great for the Trump ego.”
As part of the deal Trump signed with Eastern for the shuttle service, Trump was required to offer employment to all Eastern personnel. All told, Trump Shuttle hired around 200 pilots from Eastern Air. But it did not hire Beattie.
According to a judicial opinion in Beattie’s 1990 lawsuit against Trump Shuttle, the new company insisted that all pilots be available to start work on Feb. 1, 1989.
Beattie had applied for a job with Trump Shuttle, like the rest of his fellow Eastern pilots, but his orders from the Army college required that he stay until June to complete his assignment. For his would-be bosses at Trump Shuttle, that was a deal-breaker.
According to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Flannery, this is how it played out:
(1) Trump extended offers of employment to all Eastern employees based upon their seniority status; (2) Beattie was an Eastern pilot possessing the requisite seniority; (3) Trump declined to hire Beattie based upon his unavailability on the specified commencement date; and (4) Beattie’s unavailability was caused by his military commitment.
In response to Beattie’s legal claim, Trump’s lawyers argued that Beattie had been denied a job because he was “unavailable,” not because he was a reservist. They also claimed that Beattie’s attendance at the Army college was “voluntary,” and therefore not a real military “obligation.” The judge threw out these arguments. According to case files, Beattie’s case was settled with a consent judgment in November of 1991.
Trump Shuttle, which never turned a profit for Trump, was turned over to his creditors in early 1992, as part of the assets Trump had to sell to settle the first of three corporate bankruptcies.
Beattie died in 2014, and attempts to reach his surviving relatives were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to an inquiry from The Huffington Post about Beattie’s case.