Southwest Airlines is asking a Denver judge to discard a $1.3 million fine from the state’s labor department, the latest legal skirmish to flow from a new paid sick leave law.
Airlines have taken issue with the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, which they don’t believe they must abide by. Southwest sued the state in federal court last year to stop enforcement of the law on airlines; United Airlines did the same last month.
Separately, Southwest sued the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in Denver District Court on Jan. 27. The airline is asking Judge Sarah Wallace to determine that it doesn’t have to pay the $1,331,400 citation that CDEL issued in March 2022.
“The citation includes seventy pages of unsupported allegations and vitriol against Southwest,” the airline claimed in its lawsuit, but “did not identify a single Southwest employee who had been denied leave or was not paid for eligible sick leave” or vacation time.
The Colorado Health Family and Workplaces Act was signed into law in 2020 and fully took effect at the start of 2022. It requires most employers in the state to provide paid sick leave during public health emergencies and allow employees to accrue sick leave.
In its citation, CDLE wrote that Southwest “violated nearly every HFWA requirement and protection” and “continued to enforce its illegal policies for the past year of a deadly pandemic,” leaving “thousands of employees without paid sick leave,” according to media reports.
Southwest, which says in its lawsuit that it has more Colorado passengers than any other airline, claims that it paid more than $70 million in sick leave to its Colorado employees in 2020 and again in 2021. Under company policies and collective bargaining agreements, Southwest pays significantly more in sick leave than the HFWA requires, it says.
Furthermore, HFWA doesn’t apply to employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreements, Southwest says. It is asking Wallace to apply that exemption to its case.
A CDLE spokesperson declined to comment, citing the active litigation.
Southwest is represented by attorneys Micah Dawson and Jeffrey McClelland with the Denver office of Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm.
Southwest’s latest argument for why it is exempt from the HFWA — because most of its employees operate under collective bargaining agreements — differs from the argument it and United have made in their federal lawsuits. In those cases, they claim that airlines are federally regulated and therefore not bound by state labor laws such as the HFWA.