May 23, 2022

Volume XII, Number 143

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May 23, 2022

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U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Whether Airline Ramp Worker Meets FAA Transportation Worker Exemption

Do an airline’s ramp workers qualify as “transportation workers” exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)?

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted an airline’s petition for review to resolve this question. Southwest Airlines Co. v. SaxonDocket No. 21-309.

The Court’s holding will determine whether the workers will be able to pursue their overtime collective action in federal court or, rather, must arbitrate their claims on an individual basis pursuant to an arbitration agreement with their employer.

The transportation worker exemption excludes from FAA coverage “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1. In recent years, the exemption has emerged as one of the most significant issues in class action litigation, particularly as employers increasingly have adopted arbitration agreements with class and collective action waivers in an effort to rein in litigation costs and as wage and hour lawsuits have proliferated among employees and independent contractors who claim to fall within the exemption.

In the case at hand, a federal district court applied a narrow construction of the FAA exemption’s residual clause. It found the exemption did not apply to a cargo ramp supervisor at Chicago’s Midway Airport. The plaintiff alleged she regularly assisted her team of ramp agents in loading and unloading airplane cargo that was to be transported interstate. The district court held the employee had to pursue her wage claims in individual arbitration because the employee was not a “transportation worker.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (which has jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin) reversed in a March 31, 2021, decision, holding the transportation worker exemption applies. The Seventh Circuit reasoned that, even though the employee did not personally transport goods or people in interstate commerce, she was an essential link in the interstate commerce chain. (The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, reached the opposite conclusion in Eastus v. ISS Facility Servs., Inc., a 2020 case involving similar facts.)

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2022National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 348
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About this Author

Mia Farber Employment Litigation Attorney Jackson Lewis Los Angeles, CA
Principal

Mia Farber is a principal in the Los Angeles, California, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and a former member of the firm's Board of Directors. She currently leads the firm’s California Class and Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) resource group. She has extensive experience in all facets of employment litigation.

Mia has represented employers in all types of employment litigation, including sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination. She also has vast experience in the area of wage and hour class actions. Mia has defended a...

213-630-8284
David Golder, Jackson Lewis, wage hour dispute attorney, Fair Labor Standard Act Lawyer
Principal

David R. Golder is a Principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Golder has extensive experience handling class and complex litigation, including nationwide, high-stakes wage and hour disputes. Mr. Golder defends employers in class-based, multi-plaintiff, and multi-district wage and hour class and collective actions involving claims for employee misclassification, improper payment of wages, off-the-clock work, and meal and rest break violations. Mr. Golder also provides preventive advice and counsel to employers wishing to limit their...

860-522-0404
Eric R. Magnus, Jackson Lewis, Wage and Hour Class Defense Lawyer, Employment Matters Attorney
Shareholder

Eric R. Magnus is a Shareholder in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. His practice is focused primarily on defending federal and state wage and hour class and collective actions in jurisdictions across the United States.

Mr. Magnus’ collective and class action practice focus primarily on “donning and doffing,” “off-the-clock” and misclassification wage and hour cases. Mr. Magnus has obtained summary judgment at the district and circuit court levels in Fair Labor Standards Act and state law cases across the...

404-525-8200
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