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Airline Workers Lose Class Status in Break-Time Action

Breaking up a class of American Airlines employees who say the company forces them to work through their breaks, the Third Circuit ruled Tuesday that the workers failed to show that their situations were uniform.

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Breaking up a class of American Airlines employees who say the company forces them to work through their breaks, the Third Circuit ruled Tuesday that the workers failed to show that their situations were uniform.

This decision reverses a class certification issued for the New Jersey lawsuit by U.S.  District Judge Jose Linares. The class is led by Daniel Ferreras and Edwin Gonzalez — two clerks responsible for towing airplanes into and out of hangars, providing water and lavatory services, and loading baggage on and off airplanes at Newark Liberty International Airport. The pair filed the overtime lawsuit in 2016. 

Represented by Lee Shalov of McLaughlin Stern, they claimed the airline’s timekeeping system did not allow employees to be paid for overtime — paying them only for the hours they were scheduled to work, rather than the time they spent actually working.

Following arguments in October, the court of appeals found several problems with the class-certification decision. In particular, the court took issue with the failure to resolve conflicts in the evidence presented by the employees that should otherwise demonstrate commonality. For instance, according to testimony, not all employees in the class began working immediately after clocking in — some talked with co-workers or watched television.

“The record evidence here ... demonstrates that employees were not always working while clocked in and there was substantial variability in what they were doing, even if some of it could be called work,” U.S. Circuit Judge Kent Jordan wrote Tuesday for the three-judge panel.

Jordan also said the evidence presented shows that not all employees worked during meal breaks. 

“Thus, whether they were actually working pre- and post-shift is an open and inherently individualized question,” Jordan continued.

The plaintiffs will thus have to offer individualized proof to show that they were actually working during the various time periods at issue, the court found. 

U.S. Circuit Judges Luis Felipe Restrepo and Michael Chagares rounded out the panel.

American Airlines counsel Anton Metlitsky of the O’Melveny law firm did not immediately return an email seeking comment, nor did class counsel Shalov.

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