Southwest Airlines is asking a Denver judge to overturn a $1.3 million fine from the state Department of Labor, the latest legal skirmish stemming from a new law on paid sick leave.
The airlines have challenged the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, which they don’t believe they should comply with. Southwest sued the state in federal court last year to stop enforcing the airline law; United Airlines did the same last month.
Separately, Southwest sued the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment in Denver District Court on Jan. 27. The airline is asking Judge Sarah Wallace to rule that it does not have to pay the $1,331,400 summons CDEL issued in March 2022.
“The subpoena includes seventy pages of unsupported allegations and vitriol against Southwest,” the airline said in its lawsuit, but “it did not identify a single Southwest employee who was denied leave or was not paid for leave for sickness eligible” or holiday period.
The Colorado Health Family and Workplaces Act passed into law in 2020 and went into full effect in early 2022. It requires most employers in the state to provide paid sick leave during public health emergencies and allow employees to accrue sick leave.
In its citation, CDLE wrote that Southwest “violated nearly every HFWA requirement and protection” and “continued to enforce its illegal policies for the last year of a deadly pandemic,” leaving “thousands of employees without furloughs.” paid sick leave,” according to media reports.
Southwest, which claims in its lawsuit that it has more passengers in Colorado than any other airline, says it paid more than $70 million in sick leave to its Colorado employees in 2020 and again in 2021. According to the policies corporate and collective bargaining agreements, Southwest pays significantly more on sick leave than the HFWA requires, he says.
The HFWA also doesn’t apply to employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, Southwest says. He asks Wallace to apply that exemption to his case.
A CDLE spokesman declined to comment, citing active litigation.
Southwest is represented by attorneys Micah Dawson and Jeffrey McClelland with the Denver office of Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm.
Southwest’s latest argument as to why it is exempt from the HFWA — because most of its employees operate under collective agreements — differs from the argument it and United have made in their federal lawsuits. In those cases, they claim the airlines are federally regulated and therefore not bound by state labor laws like the HFWA.