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Airline workers who load and unload luggage are exempt from Federal Arbitration Act

The Supreme Court on Monday decided an important case about the scope of the “transportation-worker exemption” to the Federal Arbitration Act. It held that Latrice Saxon, a ramp-agent supervisor at Chicago Midway Airport, qualifies as an interstate transportation worker who is exempt from the FAA.

The 8-0 decision means that Saxon, who alleges that Southwest Airlines failed to pay overtime, can bring her claim in federal court, rather than having to proceed in arbitration.

The FAA generally requires courts to enforce arbitration clauses in employment contracts. However, the FAA also contains an exemption: it does not apply to “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” Therefore, the question in this case was whether Saxon’s job overseeing the loading and unloading of luggage and other cargo placed her in a “class of workers engaged in … interstate commerce.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit agreed that Saxon was an interstate transportation worker, and that therefore she should be able to pursue her claim in court.

In briefing and oral argument, both parties argued that the statutory language, as it would have been understood when the FAA was enacted in 1925, supported their position. On Monday, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court agreed with Saxon.

“[A]irline employees who physically load and unload cargo on and off planes traveling in interstate commerce are, as a practical matter, part of the interstate transportation of goods,” Thomas wrote.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett was recused from the case and took no part in the decision.

Check back soon for in-depth analysis of the opinion.

Recommended Citation: Charlotte Garden, Airline workers who load and unload luggage are exempt from Federal Arbitration Act, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 6, 2022, 11:39 AM),