KATHLEEN BROWN, ROBIN BRINDLE, SANDRA CARTER, KIMBERLY CLAYMAN, MARCIE LAPORTE, and KELVIN RAMIREZ, AKA KEVIN RAMIREZ, Plaintiffs,
DELTA AIRLINES, INC. Defendants.
County Superior Court
Plaintiff: Vicki J. Bejma, Esq.
Defendant: Thomas R. Gonnella, Esq.; Rebecca M. Murphy, Esq.;
William E. O'Gara, Esq.; Matthew C. Reeber, Esq.; Sean M.
Plaintiffs-Kathleen Brown, Robin Brindle, Sandra Carter,
Kimberly Clayman, Marcie Laporte, and Kevin Ramirez
(Plaintiffs)-seek judicial review of a decision of the Board
of Review of the Department of Labor and Training (Board of
Review or DLT). In its decision, the Board of Review rejected
the Plaintiffs' claims for wages and found that requiring
Delta Airlines, Inc. (Delta) to pay its employees one and
one-half times the normal rate of pay for hours worked on
Sundays and holidays, as required by G.L. 1956 § 25-3-3,
is related to the rates, routes, or services of airline
carriers and therefore is preempted by the Airline
Deregulation Act (ADA), 49 USC § 40101(a)(12). The Court
exercises jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 §§
42-35-15, et seq. For the reasons set forth herein,
this Court affirms the DLT's decision.
Facts and Travel
Plaintiffs were employees of Delta at Delta's facility in
the T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island (TF Green).
Between September 6 and September 13 of 2011, the Plaintiffs
filed complaints with the DLT, alleging that Delta violated
provisions of §§ 25-3-1, et seq., entitled
"Work on Sundays or holidays." Specifically, the
Plaintiffs claimed that Delta violated §
25-3-3 by failing to pay them one and one-half
times their normal rate of pay (premium pay) for the hours
they worked on Sundays and holidays.
9, 2012, Mary Ellen McQueeney Lally, a DLT hearing officer
(Hearing Officer), conducted a hearing on the Plaintiffs'
claims against Delta. See Ramirez v. R.I. Dep't of
Labor and Training, 2014 WL 4412618 (R.I. Super. Sept.
3, 2014). During such hearing, Delta moved to dismiss the
case as a matter of law and asserted that requiring Delta to
provide its employees with premium pay for the hours that
they worked on Sundays and holidays is related to Delta's
rates, routes, or services, and therefore triggers preemption
under the ADA. See id. The DLT issued six
decisions and found that requiring Delta to provide
the Plaintiffs with premium pay relates to its prices,
routes, and services. See id. The DLT explained that
as a result, the ADA preempted the Plaintiffs' claims
under § 25-3-3, and therefore, the statute could not be
applied against Delta. See id. Accordingly, the DLT
ruled that it was "preempted from enforcing wage laws
for airlines employees" and that it had no jurisdiction
to adjudicate the Plaintiffs' claims. Id.
on June 15, 2012, the Plaintiffs timely
appealed to the Superior Court. See id. at
*2; see also § 42-35-15. In their appeal, the
Plaintiffs asserted that the DLT's decision was affected
by error of law because it misconstrued the breadth of the
ADA. See Ramirez, 2014 WL 4412618 at *4. The
Plaintiffs further claimed that Delta failed to produce any
evidence to support the DLT's conclusion that requiring
Delta to compensate its employees with premium pay for hours
worked on Sundays and holidays would have a significant
impact on its rates, routes, and services, and therefore,
such statutory requirement was not preempted by the ADA.
See id. at *7. In response, Delta asserted that the
DLT properly found that the Plaintiffs' claims for
premium pay were preempted by the ADA. See id. As a
result, Delta moved to dismiss the Plaintiffs' claims.
See id. at *4.
September 3, 2014, this Court issued a decision concluding
that the DLT erred in dismissing the Plaintiffs' claims
without the presentation of factual evidence on the
preemption issue. See id. at *8-9. This Court
remanded the matter to the DLT for a further hearing and a
finding of fact on the issue of the effect of employee wages
on Delta's rates, routes, and services. See id.
on May 4, 2015, the parties went before the DLT for the
remanded hearing that was ordered on this matter.
See Department of Labor and Training, Division of
Labor Standards Claim No. LS 2011-396, September 1, 2015
decision at 2 (Decision). During the hearing, Kelly
Fredericks (Mr. Fredericks), President and CEO of the Rhode
Island Airport Corporation (RIAC), and Sandra LaPlante (Ms.
LaPlante), station manager for Delta at TF Green, testified
on behalf of Delta. See id. Neither witness
qualified as an expert.
Fredericks testified that he was President and CEO of the
RIAC for two years, but had experience in the aviation and
transportation industry as a civil engineer and as the chief
operating officer of an international airport for
approximately thirty-five years. Tr. at 19-20, 21-22. Mr.
Fredericks stated that as President and CEO of RIAC, a
critical component of his job is attracting and maintaining
air carrier services at TF Green. Id. at 22-23. Mr.
Fredericks testified that TF Green services eight airline
carriers and approximately 10, 000 travelers per day, with
Sundays and holidays being some of its most important days.
Id. at 20-21, 32-33. Mr. Fredericks further stated a
statute that allows employees to either refuse to work on
Sundays and holidays without repercussions or receive premium
pay for such hours, could significantly impact the air
carriers that service RIAC. Id. at 32-33. In
addition, Mr. Fredericks stated that the two main factors
that influence whether a carrier will locate in Rhode Island
are cost and demand. Id. at 24, 37, 40-45. When
asked if additional labor costs in Rhode Island would make
RIAC less competitive in the market for air services, Mr.
Fredericks answered affirmatively. Tr. at 25-26. Mr.
Fredericks further claimed that increased costs could make
Rhode Island a less attractive site to airlines in general.
Id. at 26-27. Specifically, Mr. Fredericks testified
that increased labor costs "could lead to reduction in
service from a flight frequency opportunity, " and could
"diminish [RIAC's] competitive advantage."
Id. at 31.
LaPlante testified that she has been Delta's station
manager at TF Green for three years but has worked for Delta
for twenty years. Id. at 47-48. Ms. LaPlante
explained that as a station manager, her job is to oversee
day-to-day operations, perform administrative work, provide
superior customer service, manage schedules, and lead a team
of twenty-five employees. Id. at 49-50. Ms. LaPlante
testified that Sundays and holidays are extremely important
to Delta because it is open seven days per week and operates
approximately four to five flights on Sundays. Id.
at 53-54. Ms. LaPlante also claimed that, as a station
manager, she is responsiblefor managing the employee schedule
to ensure that minimum staff is available to operate
Delta's flights at TF Green and is in charge of ensuring
counter, gates, and baggage staffing. Id. at 57, 59,
71-73. In addition, Ms. LaPlante explained that she is also
responsible for allocating money for employee salaries and
benefits from the budget that she obtains from Delta's
corporate headquarters. Id. at 63. Ms. LaPlante
asserted that if Delta is required to pay premium pay to its
Rhode Island employees for the hours worked on Sundays and
holidays, that requirement could impact or modify the
services that Delta provides on such days. Id. at
61-63, 64. Additionally, Ms. LaPlante stated that the
increased cost could likely cause airlines to reduce staff on
Sundays and holidays, making Delta less competitive.
Id. at 63.
on the testimony given and the evidence submitted, the DLT
reasoned that "[a]n increase in salaries would change
[Delta's] budget with the possibility that an adjustment
in services or staffing would have to be made."
See Decision at 4. In reaching its conclusion, the
DLT reasoned that "the logical effect[s] that . . .
[§ 25-3-3] has on [Delta's] delivery of services or
the setting of rates" is "sufficient even if
indirect." Id. at 5 (internal citations
omitted). The DLT explained that Ms. LaPlante's
testimony, which indicated that an increase in employees'
wages would, in fact, affect Delta's services, was both
"persuasive" and from "a unique
perspective." Id. at 4. The DLT also noted
that, although Mr. Fredericks' testimony was not
particular to Delta, it was "credible as pertaining to
air carriers and supportive of the points made by Ms.
LaPlante." Id. Therefore, the DLT found that
compensating employees with the premium pay is related to
Delta's rates, routes, and services, and, as a result,
the ADA preempts § 25-3-3's application against
Delta. Id. at 5, 6.
on November 18, 2015, the Plaintiffs again timely appealed
the DLT's Decision to this Court. See Pls.'
Brief; see also § 42-35-15. In their appeal,
the Plaintiffs assert that the DLT committed an error of law
in finding that § 25-3-3 was preempted by the ADA
because the possible increase in labor costs posed by the
Sunday and holiday premium pay requirement is insufficient to
trigger preemption. See Pls.' Brief at 7, 21.
The Plaintiffs also assert that even if the DLT did not
commit error of law, the DLT's Decision is clearly
erroneous because Delta failed to prove, by reliable and
substantial evidence, that increased labor costs would have a
significant impact on its rates, routes, or services. See
id. As a result, the Plaintiffs contend that the Court
should reverse the DLT's Decision and remand the case
solely for the purpose of calculating wages, penalties, and
attorney fees. See id. Conversely, Delta asserts
that the DLT did not commit an error of law because §
25-3-3 is a "blue law" that dictates how airline
carriers, like DLT, can employ and, in and of itself, is
sufficient to trigger preemption. See Defs.'
Brief at 1, 5, 14. Delta further asserts that the DLT's
Decision is not clearly erroneous because reliable and
substantial evidence in the record proves that requiring
Delta to abide by § 25-3-3 would significantly impact
its rates, routes, and services. Id. at 10.