Cases & Deals

BNSF and Union Pacific win judgment in California rest period litigation

Client(s) BNSF Railway Company, Union Pacific Railroad Company

Jones Day obtained judgment in favor of BNSF Railway Company and Union Pacific Railroad Company in two putative class actions brought on behalf of employees alleging violations of California rest period laws. The plaintiffs alleged that the railroads had failed to provide them with a paid ten-minute rest period for every four hours of work in violation of California law and sought substantial penalties and lost wages (in excess of $100 million). The employees argued that BNSF and Union Pacific were required to stop their trains to allow employees to rest – a theory that would threaten the viability of all freight rail operations in California. On behalf of BNSF and Union Pacific, Jones Day sought judgment on the ground that the claims were preempted by federal law. The courts in both actions granted the motions for judgment, siding with BNSF and Union Pacific on each of their preemption arguments. More specifically, the courts held that the plaintiffs’ claims were (1) subject to field preemption due to the comprehensive federal scheme created by the Hours of Service Act; (2) preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which requires that safety rules related to railroads be nationally uniform; and (3) preempted by the Adamson Act, which leaves the subject of wages for train employees to collective bargaining. This is a significant victory that not only ensures that BNSF and Union Pacific will be able to maintain essential operating practices, but sets a valuable precedent for similar cases in California and elsewhere.

Henry Sumlin v. BNSF Railway Company, No. 5:17-CV-2364-JFW (KKx) (C.D. Cal.); Richard Fowler et al v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 5:17-cv-02451-JGB (SP) (C.D. Cal.)