Bill was captain, Kay first officer when the two first flew together in the cockpit of a USAir jetliner three years ago. Eventually, a professional and personal relationship developed as the two flew regularly as a team on the airline's flights from Boston to California, with stops at National Airport.
However, when the two married on Dec. 5, 1982, they were barred from flying together because of an airline policy prohibiting relatives from working on the same flights. They divorced after one year.
In a $3 million lawsuit against the airline, Kay Schuttler says the policy, as applied in her case, amounts to a new form of marriage and sex discrimination that can penalize the wife more than the husband when the two work together.
Representatives of the National Organization for Women and the National Commission on Working Women say the issue of discrimination on the basis of marriage is a relatively new one, and that they were not aware of other suits addressing the problem.
The Schuttler suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria last month, alleges that the airline discriminated against Kay Schuttler by preventing her, more so than her husband, from bidding for certain trips through the airline's seniority system.
"The basic issue is the ability of a pilot to bid a line of time of trips that she wanted . . . but couldn't because her husband happened to be the pilot," explains J.C. O'Connor, who represents USAir's pilots in the national Air Line Pilots Association.
Some labor experts say the case illustrates concerns that are likely to increase as more women professionals work beside their husbands.
"I think it is becoming more of an issue, probably just because the whole idea of two-career families is more of an issue," says Janice Browd. She is a spokeswoman for Catalyst, a nonprofit group that advises businesses on career and family issues.
"It's much more of an issue in professional jobs than in nonprofessional jobs," according to Sandra Porter, executive director of the National Commission on Working Women. "It's like having an office romance or any relationship that's other than business: employers are concerned that employes' work would suffer."
Among commercial airline pilots, however, policies concerning relatives "just hasn't been an issue," according to ALPA spokesman John Mazur.
The reason may be the small number of women at the controls. Of the 34,000 commercial airline pilots represented by ALPA, only 145 are women.
USAir officials declined to comment on the case or discuss the airline's employe policies because of the pending litigation. According to O'Connor, who represented Kay Schuttler in a formal union grievance against the company, the couple has not had any operational problems while working together and the quality of their work was never an issue.
The airline's Pilot System Board of Adjustment rejected Schuttler's claims last year.
Kay Schuttler, one of 22 women pilots the airline employed last year, also charges in her suit that the airline continued to allow male relatives to fly together.
But the airline harassed her when she tried to schedule trips with her husband, the court papers contend.
She blames the resulting stress for the couple's divorce after one year of marriage.
As a divorced couple, however, the Schuttlers are allowed to bid for the same trips and fly together. And they do.
"There's nothing they can do about it," says Bill Schuttler. "This is what makes the policy a total joke."
"They didn't say it, but I think they thought it was unsafe," Kay Schuttler says, speculating about the airline's policy. She says the public may have similar safety concerns. "I've talked to people. I guess they feel we might get into an argument."
Bill Schuttler, 48, concedes that the two want to remarry if the court rules in favor of the suit.
"When you can fly the same trips, you can plan your life together accordingly," he says.
Ozark Airlines employs one of the nation's few married couples as commercial pilots and has no official policy preventing them or other relatives from working together, according to Ozark spokesman Charles Ehlert.
He says the company might take some kind of personnel action if a situation made work awkward or posed other problems.
But the airline generally feels that "what you're looking at in terms of pilots is professionals," Ehlert says. "They act as professionals."
Kay Schuttler, 35, earned her pilot's license at a private flight school and is licensed as a flight engineer, an air instructor for planes, helicopters, gliders, land and sea planes, and as a ground school instructor.
While married, she maintains, "I treated my husband like any other captain. I'm a professional."
"I trust my ex-wife on the right seat of that cockpit," says Bill Schuttler.
With five years experience at USAir, Kay Schuttler says, she was removed from trips for which she was otherwise qualified because her husband, a 24-year veteran, had bid for them.
Pilots who had no more seniority than she were often scheduled for those trips, she claims.
Few women's groups have addressed the concerns outlined in Schuttler's suit: That women, with less time in the professional world, are more likely to be adversely affected than husbands with more seniority and higher positions, by policies governing marriage in the work place.
"There just hasn't been much discussion of whether women have been discriminated against because of nepotism," says Catalyst's Browd.
According to a 1981 Catalyst survey, 82 percent of the nation's medium-sized companies have no policies restricting married couples from working together.
Kay Schuttler thinks women should join their husbands in the ranks of even the most elite occupations.
"They've got married astronauts now," she points out. "I wonder if they're going to say they can't fly together."