Delta Asks Supreme Court to Limit Scope of California Wage-and-Hour Laws

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
contributor
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
October 11, 2021 Updated: October 11, 2021

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is asking the Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling extending the application of California’s wage-and-hour laws, because flight attendants who report to a California airport to begin their multi-day, multi-state work shift actually spend the lion’s share of their workweek outside of the state.

The case is Delta Air Lines v. Oman, court file 21-396, an appeal from the often-reversed U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The respondents, who are four current or former flight attendants who seek to represent a class of Delta Air Lines flight attendants who have performed work in California, have until Nov. 12 to file a response with the Supreme Court.

Experts say consumers have benefited from the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 which deregulated the airline industry in the United States, removing federal control over such areas as fares, routes, and market entry of new airlines. Delta argues that allowing California to impose its employment rules on flight attendants is a step in the wrong direction and interferes with federal deregulatory policies.

The airline argues that California has overreached and that the state is barred by the interstate commerce clause from applying its employment regulations to aircrews that actually work only a tiny part of their workweek in California.

“This Court’s intervention is thus plainly warranted to rein in the Ninth Circuit’s hostility toward the interstate transportation industry and restore a proper understanding of the federal nature of interstate air travel,” the airline’s petition states.

For the Supreme Court to not act would “consign the airline industry to ever-more-erroneous Ninth Circuit jurisprudence that deems state law paramount and federal law’s preference for deregulation irrelevant.”

Flight attendants are by definition involved in interstate commerce, typically spending a small percentage of their workweek in any one state. They spend the bulk of their working time in the air, where conditions “are either regulated by federal law or left deliberately unregulated by the Airline Deregulation Act.”

“As a result, flight attendants traditionally have not been subjected to the wage-and-hour laws of any state, let alone the conflicting commands of multiple states, each with a minimal interest in workers who spend almost all of their time elsewhere,” according to the petition.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and courts below it changed that, the petition states. The California Supreme Court created a special rule applying to “interstate transportation workers,” under which flight attendants are subject to California wage-and-hour laws as long as they begin their multi-day, multi-state work shifts at a California airport, even if they spend only a sliver of their workweek working in California and live elsewhere.

The 9th Circuit then determined that California’s aggressive new regulatory approach didn’t violate the U.S. Constitution by extraterritorially regulating or impermissibly burdening interstate commerce.

The petition states that Delta Air Lines isn’t based in California, at least one named respondent in the lawsuit doesn’t reside in California, and all respondents in the case “undisputedly spend the vast majority of their working time outside California.”

Attorney Matthew Carl Helland of San Francisco, counsel of record for the respondents, didn’t immediately reply to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Matthew Vadum
contributor
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.