Washington State Attorney General Ferguson and L&I Director Sacks on Alaska Airlines US Supreme Court Decision

High court declines case, leaves ruling that protects state workers in place

OLYMPIA, WA (STL.News) – Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Department of Labor & Industries Director Joel Sacks offer the following statement on the United States Supreme Court decision to decline to hear Alaska Airlines v. L&I:

“This is a victory for Washington workers.  The decision protects workers’ rights to use their leave for their families’ medical needs, and leaves in place a lower court decision that our family care law is not preempted by the less protective federal law, and it remains in place.”

Case background

The Washington Family Care Act has long allowed workers to use sick leave or other paid time off to provide for the health care needs of their families.  L&I is the state agency charged with enforcing state labor laws, such as the Family Care Act.

In 2011, Alaska Airlines filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, arguing that Washington’s law was preempted by a federal law applicable to airline flight crew.  The suit argued that L&I did not have the jurisdiction to enforce the Family Care Act for alleged violations Alaska committed when it refused to allow flight crew to use paid time off to care for family members.

The state prevailed in the district court. Alaska appealed, and ultimately the state won again before a full 11-judge court, or en banc, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

On April 1, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined Alaska Airlines’ request to hear the case. This left in place the Ninth Circuit ruling protecting Washington’s law.

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