Monday, October 19, 2015
Airline Security Company Subject to State’s Wage Laws—C.A.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A company that provides security to airlines’ food service operations is not immune from state wage-and-hour laws under the federal Airline Deregulation Act, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Friday.
Div. One reversed a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s denial of class action certification in a suit by Amanda Valencia against SCIS Air Security Corporation, for which she worked as a security coordinator at Los Angeles International Airport between 2007 and 2009. Valencia claims the company did not provide her and other employees with paid meal and rest breaks and that when employees did take breaks, they were often interrupted.
She also alleged that the company violated California law with regard to overtime wages, rest breaks, minimum wage, and immediate payment of wages upon termination of employment.
The company acknowledged that it did not always provide employees with the uninterrupted breaks specified by California law, although it disputed the extent to which its practices conflicted with those laws. Because of the sensitive work done by the company, such as searching catered food for weapons and sealing food carts before flights, and the need to perform checks on incoming flights that may arrive well past schedule, employees may have to return to work without completing a break, a company official testified.
SCIS further argued that it was not subject to those state laws because applying them to the company would affect airline routes, prices, or services, and thus the preemption provisions of the Airline Deregulation Act apply.
The trial court—a portion of the case was heard on assignment by retired Judge Joseph Kalin and the remainder by Judge John Segal prior to his recent elevation to the Court of Appeal—ruled that claims related to meal and rest breaks were preempted, but those related to wages were not.
Trial Court Ruling
The court subsequently ruled that some of the wage claims were tied to the meal and rest break claims and were thus also preempted, and that others were inappropriate for class treatment for lack of commonality or because individual adjudication was a superior method. It granted class certification only as to the question of whether all wages were timely paid upon termination.
Valencia later settled her wage claims and dropped her request that a class be certified as to them. With respect to the break claims, Justice Jeffrey Johnson, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the preemption argument was “pure speculation and conjecture” and said the trial court must reconsider the question of class certification on remand.
The justice distinguished Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg (2014) 134 S.Ct. 1422, in which the high court held that the Airline Deregulation Act preempted state breach-of-contract law with respect to the plaintiff’s claim that he was illegally tossed out of an airline frequent flyer program.
Recent California Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit cases, Johnson noted, have rejected claims that state labor laws generally, and meal and rest break laws in particular, were preempted by federal law deregulating the trucking industry.
“As in those cases, the state laws here are generally applicable background regulations that are several steps removed from prices, routes, or services,” the justice rejected. “They apply to all industries, not just airlines. They concern—unlike the Northwest point of sale between a carrier and its customer—a carrier’s service provider and the service provider’s employees. Whether SCIS provides meal and rest breaks to its employees is independent of the price, route, or service that airlines provide to its customers.”
Attorneys on appeal were Louis Benowitz for the plaintiff and Raul F. Salinas and Mary M. Monroe of AlvaradoSmith, along with the firm of Texas attorney David W. Elrod, for the defendant.
The case is Valencia v. SCIS Air Security Corporation, B244199.
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