The United States Supreme Court sided with a
The justices unanimously ruled Monday that the supervisor was not covered by a 1925 federal law that requires enforcement of agreements to take claims to arbitration rather than to court. The majority said the employee qualified for an exception in that law for workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.
The case was being watched closely because of the potential impact on other jobs in the transportation and shipping industries. Uber Technologies Inc.,
The decision did not explicitly say how workers in these industries will be affected. Write for the court, Justice
“Air freight loaders are obviously performing activities in the flow of interstate commerce when handling goods traveling in interstate and foreign commerce, either to load them for air transport or to unload them upon arrival”, wrote Thomas.
The ruling sends the case to a lower court, where Southwest continues to make a different argument, based on Illinois state law, to refer the suit to arbitration.
The case involved Latrice Saxon, who works at Chicago’s Midway International Airport as a ramp agent supervisor, overseeing the loading and unloading of baggage onto and off planes. As a condition of his employment with Southwest, Saxon signed an agreement to take any pay disputes to arbitration, rather than filing a lawsuit. She is seeking to sue on behalf of ramp agent supervisors nationwide.
Southwest said the impact on the business will be “minimal,” in part because its arbitration program only applies to non-union employees.
“Because non-union employees rarely handle merchandise on a regular basis, Southwest will continue to rely on federal arbitration law to enforce its arbitration program going forward,” Southwest said in a statement sent by email.
The Supreme Court has upheld arbitration in a series of past cases, pointing to the 1925 law and its requirement that arbitration agreements be enforced like any other contract. The tribunal
But the court said on Monday that Saxon had an exemption in that law for “seafarers, railway employees or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”
The case is Southwest Airlines v. Saxon, 21-309.
(Updates with Southwest’s reaction to the ninth and tenth paragraphs.)
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