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Spirit Airlines Faces FMLA and Unlawful Termination Lawsuit

On September 2, 2022, Plaintiff, Grace Flannery (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint on behalf of herself and similarly situated class members against her former employer, Spirit Airlines Inc. (“Defendant” or “Spirit”), in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Spirit is a major commercial airline headquartered in Miramar, Florida that serves more than 90 destinations across the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Plaintiff, represented by Nathan Zipperian and Chiharu Sekino of Miller Shah LLP and Monique Olivier of Olivier & Schreiber LLP, alleges that Spirit instituted policies in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”), a federal law that guarantees eligible employees unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with the same health insurance coverage as if the employee had not taken leave. Plaintiff further alleges Spirit interfered with, restrained, or denied flight attendants from exercising their FMLA benefits. When Plaintiff opposed these unlawful policies and practices, Spirit retaliated against and eventually terminated her.

Under the FMLA, an employee who worked at least 504 hours in the previous 12 months is entitled to 72 days of unpaid medical and family leave. However, in the 2016-2021 collective bargaining agreement between Spirit and the Association of Flight Attendants, Spirit required flight attendants to work a minimum of 520 credit hours over the preceding 12 months to be granted FMLA leave.

In addition to the higher hour threshold, Plaintiff alleges that Spirit’s calculation of credit hours only included block-to-block hours, but not “duty hours” as required under the FMLA. According to the FMLA, “duty hours encompass time spent performing a variety of support duties that begin before a plane takes flight and end after it lands.” On the other hand, block-to-block time is counted from when an aircraft first moves for a flight to when the aircraft lands and is secured with blocks at a ramp or unloading point. Spirit consistently required flight attendants to be present at work 50 to 60 minutes before flight departure and stay at least 30 minutes after landing, but only counted block-to-block hours toward FMLA eligibility.

Moreover, according to Plaintiff, Spirit’s leave policy allowed less time off than required by the FMLA. Per Spirit’s policy, eligible flight attendants may take up to 12 work weeks of leave, rather than the 72 days prescribed by the FMLA. Spirit also only permits flight attendants to take 26 work weeks to care for a covered service member, instead of the lawful maximum of 156 days.

In addition to the class FMLA claims, Plaintiff also filed individual claims against Spirit for unlawful retaliation. In August 2019, following her doctor’s suggestion and need for physical therapy, Plaintiff requested FMLA leave. After Spirit failed to process her request, Plaintiff contacted the Department of Labor (“DOL”) in late January 2020 and requested an investigation into Spirit’s FMLA violations. In February 2020, Spirit terminated Plaintiff’s employment.

In May 2020, the DOL reversed Plaintiff’s termination, finding that Spirit interfered with Plaintiff’s FMLA rights and that the violations appeared to be willful.

Upon Plaintiff’s return to work, Spirit continued to violate federal law. The airline unreasonably suspended her, denied her any back pay for the time she was wrongfully unemployed, and refused to pay for her returning flight from flight attendant training. In April 2021, Spirit informed Plaintiff that her benefits were being canceled and her vacation was being taken away. As a result, Plaintiff’s surgery pre-authorization was denied for bilateral foot surgery.

In November 2021, Spirit again terminated Plaintiff’s employment, this time citing her failure to immediately return calls after her foot surgery. Plaintiff alleges these disciplinary actions against her violated the lawful exercise of her FMLA rights.

Plaintiff filed the lawsuit on behalf of a proposed class of Spirit flight attendants dating back to 2019. The action demands both back pay and front pay, compensatory damages, statutory damages, liquidated damages, and other related fees.

Updates will be posted to this blog as the matter progresses. The case caption is Grace Flannery et al. v. Spirit Airlines, No. 22-cv-61651, filed in the Southern District of Florida.

The legal team at Miller Shah LLP has extensive experience representing class action matters. If you have any questions regarding this subject or this post, please contact Chiharu Sekino (cgsekino@millershah.com) or Alec Berin (ajberin@millershah.com). The Firm can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

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