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Illinois Federal Appeals Court Finds Average Hourly Wage Across Workweek is Relevant Unit for FLSA Minimum Wage

Flight attendant with scarf and dress suit, smiling at airport

Businesses or workers confronted with potential wage and hour violations are often faced with differing and competing methods for calculating the actual value of the wages being challenged for purposes of a lawsuit. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs federal law matters in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, recently resolved some of the confusion in the law by definitively establishing the relevant unit for determining whether a wage satisfies the required minimum under federal law. Read on for details about the FSLA Minimum wage and what constitutes factors for claims or lawsuits, and contact a seasoned and knowledgeable Chicago employment law attorney with any questions.

SkyWest flight attendants sue claiming minimum wage violation

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets labor standards for employees across the country.  FLSA includes a national minimum wage, currently set at $7.25. State and local governments are free to set higher minimum wages for workers within their borders, but FLSA sets a countrywide minimum.

In a case entitled Hirst v. SkyWest, flight attendants sued SkyWest Airlines, claiming that SkyWest’s policies pay them only for time in the air but not for time on the ground. Their “block time,” or time in the air, is much shorter than their actual “duty day,” which includes prep before and after flights. Plaintiffs alleged that they were overworked and underpaid, in violation of FLSA as well as Illinois and California minimum wage laws. The airline disputed their claims, specifically pointing to FLSA’s $7.25 minimum wage: None of the plaintiffs specifically alleged a particular workweek in which their average hourly wage was actually less than the federal minimum of $7.25. For that reason, the airline argued the case should be dismissed.

The flight attendants argued that compliance with the minimum wage should be measured differently depending on the industry involved. They contended that compliance for flight attendants should be measured by “pairing,” or work trip out and back from their base airport, rather than by a typical workweek.

Seventh Circuit affirms that average hourly wage across workweek is appropriate measure of wages for FLSA

The trial court dismissed the flight attendants’ claims under FLSA and state and local law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the FLSA claims. The appeals court found that the Department of Labor treats all industries the same in calculating wages: by reference to the workweek. Other circuit courts have taken the same approach for all industries. The flight attendants failed to plead any particular week in which they were paid less than $7.25 as measured by dividing hours worked by the amount paid that week. It was insufficient to vaguely claim they worked long hours without citing at least one specific week in which the minimum wage was violated. For that reason, their FLSA claims failed.

The appeals court, however, stated that FLSA reserves for the states and localities to govern their own labor standards. The district court had found that the Commerce Clause preempted the workers’ claims under state and local law, as they were also covered by FLSA. The district court ruled that it would be overly burdensome to subject airlines to the different labor laws of every state in which they operate, especially given that employees travel across state lines on a daily basis. The appeals court disagreed, explaining that states are expressly permitted to set their own minimum wage and other labor laws, even if they overlap with federal labor law and despite any perceived burden on the airline. The court thus reversed the dismissal of the flight attendants’ claims under state and local law and remanded for further proceedings to determine the appropriate application of those laws.

If you or your business face issues related to minimum wage violations in Illinois, get a seasoned and professional opinion on how to proceed by contacting the Chicago employment discrimination attorneys at MacDonald, Lee & Senechalle in Hoffman Estates at 847-310-0025 and in Des Plaines at 847-298-5030.

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