TORONTO - The Federal Court of Canada is being asked to step into a dispute between pilots at Air Canada (TSX:AC.A) and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

At issue is a tribunal decision that called into question the retirement age provision of the collective agreement between the Air Canada Pilots Association and the airline.

In a new release issued Monday, the association says it believes the tribunal "erred at law by ignoring Supreme Court of Canada decisions which found it acceptable for employers and employees to determine a retirement age through the collective bargaining process."

The tribunal, in an Aug. 28 decision, ruled that Section 15(1)(c) of the Canadian Human Rights Act cannot be justified under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a reasonable limit prescribed by law that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

That section of the human rights law states that a practice is not discriminatory if an individual's employment is terminated because he or she has reached the normal age of retirement for employees working in similar positions.

As a result of this interpretation, the tribunal refused to apply this section of the human rights act in considering a complaint regarding the association's collective agreement, which contains a contractual obligation for Air Canada pilots to retire at age 60.

If left unchallenged, the decision could potentially have an impact on the wages and benefits of the active pilot group and thousands of other federally regulated employees currently working under collective agreements containing a fixed age of retirement.

"The contractual retirement age and associated post-employment benefits are cornerstones of our collective agreement, which has supported Air Canada pilots' careers for decades," said Capt. Brian Murray, chair of the association's Age 60 Legal Support Committee.

"The overwhelming majority of our members support this provision and we will use every legal means to protect their right to collectively bargain terms of retirement," Murray said.

The Air Canada Pilots Association is the largest professional pilot group in Canada, representing the more than 3,000 pilots who operate Air Canada's main fleet.

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