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US Airways, Inc. v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Bockelman)

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

November 20, 2019

US AIRWAYS, INC. AND SEDGWICK CLAIMS MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC., Appellants
v.
WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEAL BOARD (BOCKELMAN), Appellees

          ARGUED: May 14, 2019

          Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered February 22, 2018 at No. 612 CD 2017, affirming the Order of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board dated April 19, 2017 at No. A16-0545.

          SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

          OPINION

          WECHT JUSTICE.

         This appeal involves an airline employee who was injured while riding an airport shuttle bus to an employee parking lot after her shift ended. The question before us is whether the employee's injury can be said to have occurred on the airline's premises for purposes of the Workers' Compensation Act even though the City of Philadelphia owned both the shuttle bus and the employee parking lot.

         I.

         The Claimant in this appeal, Betty Bockelman, is a Philadelphia-based flight attendant. On January 23, 2015, Bockelman was scheduled to work a one-day trip from Philadelphia to Miami and then back to Philadelphia. On that morning, Bockelman drove her personal vehicle to the Philadelphia International Airport and parked (for free) in one of two employee parking lots at the airport. Bockelman's employer, U.S. Airways, [1] does not own or operate these parking lots. Instead, the City of Philadelphia Division of Aviation ("the Division" or "Division of Aviation") owns, operates, and maintains the parking lots specifically for airport and airline employees.

         Anyone seeking to enter the Division's restricted parking lots must swipe a special credential called a Secured Identification Display Area ("SIDA") badge. The Division is responsible for issuing SIDA badges to all airport employees with jobs that require access to secure areas of the airport. The Division conducts a background check and fingerprinting before issuing a SIDA badge to an airline employee. When a new employee is hired, her employer pays the Division of Aviation a one-time administrative fee to cover the cost of the badge and the background check.

         After an employee parks in one of the reserved lots, a Division of Aviation shuttle bus transports the employee to the airport terminal.[2] These shuttles are not open to the public; they are for airport employees only. U.S. Airways itself does not own or exercise control over the shuttle buses, nor does it pay the Division any fees for its employees to use the shuttles. U.S. Airways does not require employees to use the Division's parking lots or shuttle service. In fact, U.S. Airways gives its employees no guidance at all regarding how they should commute to work.

         On the day of her injury, Bockelman rode the Division shuttle to the airport terminal and flew to Miami as scheduled. She then returned back in Philadelphia just before 10:00 p.m. that evening. After a brief discussion with a co-worker, Bockelman left the terminal and boarded the shuttle bus to take her back to her vehicle. While lifting her suitcase onto one of the shuttle's luggage racks, Bockelman slipped in a puddle, fell backwards, and crushed her left foot.

         Bockelman later filed a workers' compensation claim petition alleging that she sustained disabling foot and ankle injuries as a result of the January 2015 slip and fall. She sought total temporary disability benefits for a closed period from January 23, 2015 (the date of her injury) through April 19, 2015 (when she ultimately returned to work). U.S. Airways filed an answer, denying that Bockelman was within the course of her employment at the time of her injury. See 77 P.S. § 411(1) (defining a compensable injury to mean an injury that arises in the course of employment).

         A Workers' Compensation Judge ("WCJ") held a hearing on Bockelman's claim petition in late October 2015. In support of her petition, Bockelman testified that, at the time of her injury, she was a member of the Association of Flight Attendants ("AFA"), a labor union representing flight attendants. Bockelman also produced a collective bargaining agreement between the AFA and U.S. Airways, which included a provision stating that U.S. Airways was responsible for providing either free or reimbursed parking for flight attendants at their domicile airports.

         In opposition, U.S. Airways presented documentary evidence and offered the testimony of Anthony Stanley, the Director of Planning and Administration for U.S. Airways. Stanley testified that U.S. Airways did not pay for Bockelman, or any other Philadelphia- based flight attendants, to park in the employee parking lots at the Philadelphia International Airport. Stanley explained that the City of Philadelphia owns and operates all airport-employee parking lots, including the lot in which Bockelman parked on the day that she was injured. Stanley testified that the Division's lots are not only for U.S. Airways' employees; rather, they are open to all airport and airline employees. Finally, while Stanley acknowledged that the AFA's collective bargaining agreement states that U.S. Airways will provide free or reimbursed parking for flight attendants, he testified that those specific provisions do not apply to flight attendants like Bockelman who are domiciled in Philadelphia, since the Division of Aviation already provides free parking for airport employees.

         The WCJ granted Bockelman's claim petition. In his decision, the WCJ explained that, if an employee is not actively furthering her employer's business or affairs when she suffers an injury, the injury arises in the course of employment only if: (1) the injury occurs on the employer's premises; (2) the employee's presence on the employer's premises is required by the nature of her employment; and (3) the employee's injury was caused by the condition of the premises or by the operation of the employer's business thereon.[3]WCJ Opinion, 4/27/2016, at 11; see 77 P.S. § 411(1).

         The WCJ found that Bockelman's injury satisfied all three elements of this test. As for the first prong, the WCJ noted that Bockelman was injured while "taking a specifically designated shuttle bus to an employee parking lot that required an identification card (the SIDA badge) for entry and exit." WCJ Opinion, 4/27/2016, at 11. Turning to the second prong, the WCJ stressed that Bockelman "boarded the [shuttle] bus soon after her flight had landed in Philadelphia." Id. Finally, with regard to the third prong, the WCJ noted that the evidence was undisputed that Bockelman's injury was caused by the wet floor on the shuttle bus. Id. Accordingly, the WCJ concluded that Bockelman's injury arose in the course of her employment. U.S. Airways appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board ("Appeal Board"), which affirmed the WCJ's decision.

         US Airways then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that the WCJ erred in concluding that Bockelman's injury satisfied the first two prongs of the Slaugenhaupt test. According to U.S. Airways, Bockelman's injury did not occur on the airline's premises given that U.S. Airways neither owned nor operated the shuttle upon which Bockelman was injured. Furthermore, U.S. Airways maintained that Bockelman's presence on the airport shuttle was not mandatory, since U.S. Airways did not direct its employees to park in any particular lot at the airport.

         The Commonwealth Court rejected both of U.S. Airways' arguments in a unanimous, published opinion. US Airways, Inc. v. W.C.A.B. (Bockelman), 179 A.3d 1177 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2018). The court first agreed with the WCJ that, under the Slaugenhaupt test, an employee's injury arises in the course of her employment when: (1) the employee is on the premises occupied or controlled by the employer or upon which the employer's affairs are being carried on; (2) the employee is required by the nature of her employment to be present on the employer's premises; and (3) the employee sustains injuries caused by the condition of the premises or by operation of the employer's business or affairs thereon. Id. at 1180 (citing Slaugenhaupt, 376 A.2d at 273).

         The court next explained that the first element of the Slaugenhaupt test is satisfied not only when an employee is on an employer's premises proper, but also any areas significantly connected to an employer's affairs, including a reasonable avenue of ingress to and egress from the workplace. Id. at 1180-82 (citing Epler v. N. Am. Rockwell Corp., 393 A.2d 1163, 1166-67 (Pa. 1978) (holding that an employee crossing a public street between employer's plant and employer's parking lot remained on the employer's premises); Interstate United Corp. v. W.C.A.B. (Bair), 424 A.2d 1015, 1017 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1981) (holding that a steel-plant cafeteria worker was on her employer's premises when she fell on a footbridge that connected the plant to a public street); and Fashion Hosiery Shops v. W.C.A.B. (Kurta), 423 A.2d 792, 797 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1980) (holding that a walkway near the entrance of a multi-tenant commercial building constituted part of the employer's premises)). Thus, the court found that, because Bockelman was present on a reasonable means of access to and from the airport terminal, she satisfied the first requirement of the Slaugenhaupt test.

         Next, the court noted that the second requirement of the Slaugenhaupt test-that the employee is required by the nature of her employment to be present on the employer's premises-is satisfied not only where an employee is on the premises at issue to work, but also where she is entering or exiting her workspace within a reasonable time before or after her shift. US Airways, 179 A.3d at 1182-83 (discussing ICT Group v. W.C.A.B. (Churchray-Woytunick), 995 A.2d 927, 932 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010) (holding that an employee leaving for her lunch break and walking on employer's premises was required by the nature of her work to be present) and Allegheny Ludlum Corp. v. W.C.A.B. (Hines), 913 A.2d 345, 349 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006) (holding that an employee starting his shift and walking along the only authorized route to workspace was required by the nature of his work to be present)). Applying that principle, the Commonwealth Court held that, because Bockelman used the airport shuttle as a reasonable means of egress from her workplace, she satisfied the second requirement of the Slaugenhaupt test. Having rejected U.S. Airways' arguments regarding the first two prongs of the Slaugenhaupt test, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the WCJ's award of benefits.

         US Airways filed a petition for allowance of appeal, which we granted to consider whether a worker who voluntarily uses an optional employee parking area remains in the course of her employment while traveling between that area and her typical workspace. The answer to that question lies in Section 301(c)(1) of the Workers' Compensation Act, which we construe using the interpretative principles codified in the Statutory Construction Act. See 1 Pa.C.S. § 1501 et seq. Foremost among those principles is the rule that remedial legislation like the Workers' Compensation Act should be ...


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