Cases & Deals

Massachusetts Railroad Group obtains court ruling that federal law preempts Massachusetts' paid sick leave law

Client(s) Massachusetts Railroad Group

On June 23, 2017, the First Circuit ruled in favor of a coalition of railroads represented by Jones Day, holding that the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act ("RUIA") partially preempts Massachusetts' paid sick leave law, the Earned Sick Time Law ("ESTL"). The ESTL generally requires employers in Massachusetts to provide each employee with 40 hours of paid "sick time" per year, which can be used 1) to care for themselves or their family members, 2) to attend their or their family members' routine medical appointments, or 3) to address the psychological, physical, or legal effects of domestic violence.

The railroads brought suit against the Massachusetts Attorney General in 2015, arguing that the ESTL was expressly preempted by the RUIA, which provides that no person employed by an interstate rail carrier "shall have or assert any right ... to sickness benefits under a sickness law of any State." A number of unions and the United States intervened in the case. The district court agreed with the railroads, holding that "all state sickness laws, without qualification, would unduly burden and interfere with federal regulation and should thus be preempted."

On appeal, the First Circuit held that the RUIA preempts the part of the ESTL that entitles workers to earned sick time to care for their own injuries and illnesses. The First Circuit then remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the RUIA or other federal law preempts the remaining provisions of the ESTL, and if not whether those provisions are severable.

On remand, the district court held that the RUIA preempts all of the "sick time" mandated under the ESTL, for whatever purpose. The state did not appeal, but the union intervenors did. That appeal is now pending in the First Circuit. On March 29, 2019, the First Circuit issued an order to show cause, asking the union appellants to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction due to the lack of final judgment in the court below. On April 10, the union respondents filed a response arguing that the judgment below was final. The First Circuit has not taken any action since then.

The First Circuit's initial ruling in this case is the first appellate ruling to interpret the scope of RUIA preemption. Jones Day is currently litigating a similar RUIA preemption case in the Eastern District of California.

CSX Transportation Inc. v. Healey, Case No. 16-2171 (1st. Cir.); CSX Transportation Inc. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Case No. 16-2172 (1st. Cir.)