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Airlines Association Files Another Lawsuit Challenging Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Law

By: Michele Haydel Gehrke

On April 4, 2018, Airlines for America, a trade association and lobbyist organization for U.S. airlines, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Massachusetts against the Massachusetts Attorney General challenging the state’s paid sick leave requirements.  On behalf of its members, Airlines for America seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to invalidate Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time Law and to prohibit its enforcement with respect to flight crew and ground crew personnel.  This is the second lawsuit filed by the airline association in recent months challenging paid sick leave laws.  In February 2018, Airlines for America filed a similar lawsuit challenging Washington’s paid sick leave law which we discussed here.

By way of background, Massachusetts voters passed the Earned Sick Time Law on November 4, 2014.  The law requires employers with 11 or more employees to provide paid sick leave to employees at the rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked, up to 40 hours per year.  The law applies broadly to Massachusetts employers and employees and does not include exemptions for employees covered by collective bargaining agreements that provide for paid sick leave, or airline employees under the Railway Labor Act. 

 In this case, Airlines for America alleges that applying the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law (the “law”) to the airline industry violates the United States Constitution -- specifically, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the Commerce Clause -- because of the law’s application to employees outside the state of Massachusetts and its negative impact on interstate commerce.  Airlines for America further contends the law is preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act because it negatively impacts carrier’s “prices, routes, and services.”

Airlines for America further alleges that without these exemptions for airline employees, carriers will have to comply with a patchwork of inconsistent state and local paid sick leave laws, which will cause an undue burden on the airlines’ operations, and that such protections are not necessary because the airlines already provide generous paid sick leave benefits to employees in their collective bargaining agreements. 

Along with the Washington lawsuit, this legal challenge is an important development for airline employers as they attempt to determine the best way to comply with the patchwork of paid sick leave laws sweeping the nation, while still operating a vast network of flights and mobile employees across state lines.  Future court rulings may provide much needed guidance on these important issues.  Be sure to check back for future updates as we will continue to monitor litigation in this area.