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When American Airlines revealed its plans to merge with U.S. Airways to become the world's largest airline, the details of the transaction were widely reported. One aspect of the deal—a nearly $20 million severance payment to Tom Horton, the CEO of American Airlines—grabbed headlines. To be sure, $20 million is no small sum, even in this age of rich golden parachutes for executives of large public corporations. But the severance payment came under scrutiny not just for its eye-popping figure. Because the payment was contemplated in connection with American Airlines' Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, the Office of the U.S. Trustee, tasked with overseeing the administration of the airline's reorganization case, objected to the severance payment that, in its view, was prohibited by federal bankruptcy law.

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