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Biden Administration Backs Flight Attendants Over California Rest Break Laws

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The Solicitor General has requested the Supreme Court to dismiss an appeal in which the airline industry is pitted against flight attendants in a long-running battle over California’s employee meal break rules.

Despite acknowledging that the lower court may have been confused about conflicting FAA rules that usually govern flight attendant rest breaks, Elizabeth Prelogar concluded in a written submission to the Supreme Court that Alaska Airlines’ request for review of a lower court’s decision should be denied.

A group of flight attendants of the now-defunct Virgin America airline filed the lawsuit, alleging that the business failed to provide employees with legally mandatory rest and lunch breaks as required by California labor regulations.

Nearly every industry is required by law to provide employees who work for more than five hours with an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break. Employees who work for more than 10 hours are entitled to a second break, and transportation workers are normally entitled to an additional 10-minute break for every four hours worked.

Virgin America flight attendant Julia Bernstein filed a class-action lawsuit against her employer in 2015, alleging that the San Mateo-based airline was breaching California labor laws by failing to provide mandatory meal breaks to flight attendants on intrastate flights.

Virgin America fought back, claiming that less favorable restrictions contained in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 applied to flight attendant meal breaks and that federal standards superseded state legislation.

The argument was dismissed by a San Francisco appeals court, which sided with the flight attendants. Alaska Airlines, which purchased Virgin America in 2016, is appealing the decision and has asked the Supreme Court to examine it.

The airline industry has warned that if the ruling stands, ticket costs will have to rise because airlines will need to hire more flight attendants to comply with the rest and lunch break restrictions.

The Biden administration agrees, and even admits that FAA rules likely exceed California labor laws, but Prelogar has asked the Supreme Court not to intervene.

Airlines for America, an industry lobbying group, slammed the Solicitor General’s brief, saying it delivered a “mixed message.”

“The conflict between federal and state law is a critical issue with nationwide implications, and we hope the Supreme Court will grant review on the merits and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision in the Bernstein case,” the group, which represents Alaska along with a slew of other major carriers said on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether the lower court’s decision should be overturned.

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