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Gerald Thompson, et al v. Us Airways

July 15, 2011

GERALD THOMPSON, ET AL. ,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
US AIRWAYS, INC., ET AL. , DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: P Ratter, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs here are a purported class of individuals who have worked as skycaps at US Airways terminals in Pennsylvania. Skycaps are the aviation equivalent of the railroad redcaps -- that is, porters who assist passengers checking luggage at the entrance of the terminal. The Plaintiffs in this case are or have been employed by Prime Flight Aviation Services ("Prime Flight"), which is one of the two defendants in this case. US Airways is the other.

In 2005, US Airways began charging its passengers a $2 fee, collected by skycaps, for each bag checked at curbside. The Plaintiffs claim that this fee has "dramatically" reduced the amount of money that travelers give skycaps in tips. On February 3, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a four-count Complaint against US Airways and Prime Flight, alleging that the Defendants' conduct had violated two state statutes, as well as principles of Pennsylvania common law. *fn1 Specifically, the Plaintiffs claim that skycaps' income comes primarily from tips, and that because of the initiation of the curbside baggage fee, many skycaps employed by Defendants have been making less than minimum wage. In addition, the Plaintiffs assert that skycaps often were forced to work through meal breaks and that many did not receive overtime compensation.
In June of 2010, the Court dismissed Count III of the Complaint, which alleged tortious interference with a contractual relationship, but held that Plaintiffs could proceed with Counts I and II, asserting claims under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act ("PMWA"), *fn2 and Count IV, alleging unjust enrichment. Thompson v. US Airways, Inc., 717 F. Supp. 2d 468 (E.D. Pa. 2010). The Court nonetheless granted US Airways' separate request that Plaintiffs be required to show cause why Counts I and II should not be dismissed as released by the terms of a settlement agreement in Mitchell v. US Airways, Inc. (D. Mass., No. 1:08-cv-10629) ("the Settlement Agreement"), a case that was filed and resolved in the federal district court for the District of Massachusetts.
For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that Counts I and II of the Complaint present state law claims of the kind that were released by the Settlement Agreement in Mitchell , and that the Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they are entitled to collaterally attack that Settlement Agreement in this Court. Thus, Counts I and II will be dismissed to the extent that they are asserted by Plaintiffs who were members of the settlement class in Mitchell . However, because the Defendants' briefing does not make clear that all of the Plaintiffs in this case were members of the Mitchell class, the Court will reserve judgment temporarily as to the question of whether these two counts shall be dismissed in their entirety.

J URISDICTION

The Court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

F ACTUAL AND P ROCEDURAL B ACKGROUND

The background of this particular case is set forth in Thompson , 717 F. Supp. 2d 468.

In the earlier case pursued in Massachusetts, Mitchell , representative plaintiff skycaps sued US Airways and Prime Flight, alleging violations of 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), which is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), and state law, including the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Law. *fn3 On September 24, 2009, United States District Judge Gertner granted the Mitchell plaintiffs' motion for the final approval of a settlement, which resolved all of those plaintiffs' claims against Prime Flight and many of their claims against US Airways. The settlement class in Mitchell included all persons employed by Prime Flight in a tipped skycap position at any time from December 1, 2005 to December 31, 2008, including skycaps who employed by Prime Flight at US Airways terminals in Philadelphia. The Settlement Agreement states in relevant part:

Limited Waiver & Release of Air Carriers. Upon the final approval by the Court of the Settlement Agreement, all claims relating to unpaid wages, overtime, any violation of any state minimum wage or tips statute (except to the extent any such claim may arise apart from the existence of a joint employment or employment relationship), retaliatory discharge, and any other claim, based in state or federal common law or statute, that requires the existence of an employment, joint employment, or quasi-employment relationship will be dismissed with prejudice as to U.S. Airways ... . For the avoidance of doubt, with respect to all state law claims, this Release of Claims applies to all Skycaps who do not exercise their rights to opt out of the Settlement Agreement, and, with respect to federal FLSA claims, this Release applies to all Skycaps who submit claims to opt in and participate in the settlement.

US Airways now argues here that (1) the Plaintiffs in this Pennsylvania case were members of the settlement class in Mitchell ; and therefore (2) any Plaintiff who failed to opt out of the Mitchell Settlement Agreement is now bound by its terms -- and in particular, by its explicit release of all claims relating to unpaid wages or overtime, or under "any state minimum wage or tips statute." *fn4 To the extent that none of the Plaintiffs here opted out of the Settlement Agreement, this language would apply to, and thus bar, their PMWA claims in this case. *fn5

The Plaintiffs have responded by attacking the Settlement Agreement collaterally, arguing that (1) the notice provided to class members in Mitchell was misleading, and thus violated their right to due process; and (2) the representative plaintiffs in Mitchell lacked standing to bring state-law claims on behalf of a nationwide class, and were therefore legally inadequate.

One question that neither of the parties seem to have addressed is whether at least some of the Plaintiffs in this case might not have been members of the Mitchell settlement class, which only included persons who were employed by Prime Flight as tipped skycaps during the period from December 1, 2005 to December 31, 2008. The Complaint in this matter was filed in state court on February 3, 2009, and removed to federal court on February 27, 2009. The Complaint states that the Plaintiffs were bringing their class action "on behalf of themselves and all other persons who are or have been employed as skycaps at Defendant US Airways, Inc. ... ...


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