When I am faced with a wage suit, whether individual or class action, I always look for a “magic bullet” a quick fix, a tactic that might make the entire suit go away in one fell (and less costly) swoop.
One of these tactics is to use a preemption defense. Where there exists a labor contract, the argument is that the National Labor Relations Act preempts the wage hour suit, meaning the employees have to arbitrate their claims. There are other types of preemption defenses, as illustrated by the defendant’s attempted use of one in a recent case. The tactic failed, but the principle remains an important one.
A federal judge has held that a federal transportation statute did not preempt state wage law claims filed by a class of truck drivers, who claimed they were really employees, not independent contractors. The case is entitled Martins et al v. 3PD Inc., and was filed in federal court in the District of Massachusetts.
The judge rejected the Company’s contention that the wage hour claims and misclassification allegations were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994. This statute, in sweeping fashion, preempts state laws that address issues of price, route, or service for any motor carrier regarding hauling of cargo or property. The defendant claimed the broad range of this federal law trumped the state law claims.
The court stated that “3PD argues that plaintiffs’ claims are preempted by the FAAAA for two reasons: (1) they impermissibly seek to ‘enlarge or enhance the bargain’ that the parties entered into, and (2) they would affect the price of motor carrier services.” The court rejected both arguments, holding that both contentions relied on the premise that the individuals were independent contractors, but that, according to the court, was the quintessential issue in the litigation. The court also certified the class.
Always examine a possible preemption defense. This is easier to do when there exists a labor contract, but the possibility of preemption must always be considered, as it can eliminate a class action in a single motion.