Pilots for defunct Trans World Airlines have asked a federal judge to approve a $53 million settlement of litigation with their union over seniority rights lost when bankrupt TWA was taken over by American Airlines in 2001.

Counsel for the plaintiffs in Brady v. Air Line Pilots Association described the deal in court documents as the largest known settlement of its kind in a lawsuit against a labor union by its members.

The suit, filed in 2002 on behalf of 2,300 former TWA pilots, alleged their collective bargaining unit, Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), failed to safeguard their seniority in violation of its duty of fair representation.

ALPA allegedly was seeking, without the knowledge of the TWA pilots, to become the bargaining unit for American’s 11,000 pilots, who until then were represented by a different union, Allied Pilots Association (APA).

On Nov. 8, 2001, American and APA executed a seniority integration agreement, known as Supplement CC, which provided that the majority of TWA pilots would be placed at the end of the combined seniority list—resulting in, with few exceptions, TWA pilots being junior to American pilots, the suit alleged.

The pilots brought claims under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C.A. 151-188, a federal statute regulating interstate commerce.

Following a trial on liability in July 2011, a jury found in favor of the class. The settlement was reached as the case was headed for a damages trial.

The parties participated in two mediation sessions in 2012 with James Rosenbaum, a former U.S. District Court judge from Minnesota who is now with JAMS, but to no avail.

After a 14-hour session with another JAMS mediator, David Geronemus, the parties signed a memorandum of understanding in November 2013.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas on Feb. 21 gave preliminary approval to the settlement, under which class members will get awards ranging from $200 to $32,000 according to a formula that measures each member’s economic loss.

ALPA and its carrier, Kitty Hawk Insurance, will each pay half, according to papers filed by class counsel Lisa Rodriguez of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis in Cherry Hill, whose cocounsel is Green Jacobson of Clayton, Mo.

The $53 million total includes $15.9 million in fees and $1.2 million in costs. The fee petition said class counsel billed $9.5 million at rates of $525 to $650 for partners, $285 to $450 for associates and $75 to $180 for paralegal work, yielding a lodestar multiplier of 1.66. That, counsel said, is low under the circumstances.

Rodriguez said she is not familiar with any larger award in a class suit alleging violations of a union’s duty to represent its membership. The claim is novel because the former TWA pilots came under different representation after they joined American and so brought suit against their former union, she noted.

ALPA’s lead counsel, Jay Cohen of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, did not return a call about the settlement.

Local N.J. counsel John Connell of Archer & Greiner in Haddonfield declined to comment.