The Supreme Court’s decision in Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, ___ US ___ (2022), Case No. 21-309, June 6, 2022, addressed the scope of Federal Arbitration Act’s (FAA) exclusion for workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce. This case arose from a class action for overtime initiated by an employee who supervised airline baggage handlers. Pursuant to an arbitration agreement, the employer moved to arbitrate the class-members claims on an individual basis. The lead-plaintiff protested that the class members were engaged in interstate commerce and, therefore, fell within the class exempted by Section 1 of the FAA. The employer responded by noting the baggage handlers never left the ground of the state in which they were employed and, therefore, were not engaged in interstate commerce.
A unanimous Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Thomas, adopted the broader view. The Court noted the statutory exclusion referred to a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The “ordinary, contemporary, common meaning” of this language, in the context of the FAA, referred to a larger group than the pilots and stewards whose daily duties took them across state lines. Thus, the pro-arbitration purposes of the FAA did not override the proper interpretation of the statutory language. It may be noteworthy that this is the second time this term the Court has downplayed the significance of the pro-arbitration purposes of the FAA. See, Morgan v Sundance, Inc., (May 23, 2022), reported below on May 26, 2022.