WELA ALERT: NINTH CIRCUIT

Railway Labor Act Pre-Empts Fine State Agency Issued to Airline Based on Flight Attendant’s Claimed Violation of Washington Family Care Act

An Alaska Airlines flight attendant called in sick in May to care for her son, who was ill. She had used up all her sick leave. She had vacation time available, but did not have an ability to access it until December, when she had scheduled it the year before per company policy. The flight attendant claimed a right under the Washington Family Care Act to use some of her seven days of December vacation leave in May to care for her son. Alaska disagreed.

Instead of filing a grievance, she filed an administrative complaint with the Washington Department of Labor & Industries. L&I ruled in her favor and fined Alaska Airlines $200. Alaska filed suit in federal court claiming the Railway Labor Act preempted the fine. Judge Robart disagreed and granted summary judgment to the state.

The Ninth Circuit reversed, 2-1. The majority held that the grievance adjustment board should have decided whether the flight attendant should have been allowed to use her vacation time for her son’s illness. The majority reasoned the flight attendant’s entitlement to use the leave under the statute dependent on the collective bargaining agreement.

Judge Christen agreed with Judge Robart that there was no RLA preemption because there was no need to interpret the collective bargaining agreement to decide whether she had a right to use the leave under the statute.

Alaska Airlines Inc. v. Schurke, 846 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 1/25/17) (Kleinfeld, Wallace, Christen).