PHOENIX – A federal court has ordered Arizona-based Mesa Air Group – operating regional flights for American and United airlines as Mesa Airlines – to follow federal law and correct the company’s pay policy that prevented flight attendants and pilots from exercising their rights to take time off from work for qualifying reasons under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
In what may be a far-reaching move for the airline industry, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona entered a consent judgment on Oct. 7, 2022, that closely follows the court’s earlier decision that flight attendants and pilots qualified for FMLA under either hours worked or hours paid.
In a court filing in support of the department’s allegations, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO stated that, before the passage of the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act, flight attendants and pilots found it nearly impossible to be eligible for FMLA leave because of how the industry calculates hours. The amicus brief explains that flight attendants are not paid their standard hourly wages for every hour on duty, instead they generally receive hourly wages only while the aircraft is moving.
The latest judgment follows an investigation and policy review by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division that found that Mesa Air Group had a policy of using only hours paid to determine FMLA eligibility in employee requests for leave, ignoring the hours employees worked. As result, investigators found the airline’s practice made it challenging for flight attendants and pilots to qualify for family and medical leave.
“Workers should not have to choose between their jobs and their health,” said Wage and Hour Division District Director Eric Murray in Phoenix. “Federal law allows for critically needed workplace flexibilities precisely when employees need it the most. The outcome of this case will likely have an impact on airline industry employees nationwide.”
The court also ordered the reinstatement and payment of $10,000 to a flight attendant whom Mesa had wrongly denied FMLA leave and enjoined the employer from further violating act.
Mesa Airlines argued the FMLA authorizes the company to choose whether to determine its flight crew employees’ FMLA eligibility through hours worked or hours paid, and that the company is not required to maintain such records. However, the court agreed with the department that the airline flight crews qualify for FMLA leave by using either hours worked, hours paid or both. The judgment also stated the airline must follow recordkeeping requirements.
“This decision by the court makes clear that employers do not have discretion to unilaterally and conveniently exclude hours worked or hours paid when calculating eligibility for leave under federal law,” said Regional Solicitor of Labor Marc Pilotin in San Francisco, California. “Employers cannot interpret the law at will and pick and choose what is most convenient for them.”
The division’s Phoenix District Office investigated this case. Counsel for Wage and Hour Andrew Schultz, Senior Trial Attorney M. Ana Hermosillo, and Trial Attorney Afroz Baig of the department’s Office of the Solicitor in San Francisco litigated the case for the department.
“Mesa’s sought to undermine the ability of flight attendants to benefit from the Family and Leave Act,” said Association of Flight Attendants’ Associate General Counsel John Morse. “Mesa’s arguments sought to turn back the clock and prevent most flight attendants from qualifying for FMLA. The U.S. District Court has now affirmed the law for airline crewmembers to become eligible for FMLA.”
The Wage and Hour Division protects workers against retaliation and has regulations that also prohibit harassment, intimidation or adverse actions against employees that assert their worker rights. Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division and how to file an online complaint. Workers and employers with questions can contact the division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), regardless of where they are from.
Download the agency’s new Timesheet App for android and iOS devices to ensure hours and pay are accurate.