Flight Attendant Alleges Spirit Airlines Wrongfully Denies FMLA Leave

A former Spirit Airlines flight attendant claims that the airline is unlawfully denying employees their entitled unpaid family or medical leave by failing to accurately account for all the hours worked, which is a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This assertion is part of a proposed class action lawsuit filed in a federal court in Nevada.

In the lawsuit, a former Spirit Airlines flight attendant alleges that Spirit Airlines excluded the hours spent on pre- and post-flight duties when determining whether employees meet the hours-of-service requirement for eligibility to receive unpaid family or medical leave under the FMLA. This exclusion, according to the plaintiff constitutes a violation of the FMLA and forms the basis of the two claims, which include interference and retaliation under the FMLA.

According to the plaintiff, Spirit Airlines bases its calculation of hours worked for FMLA eligibility solely on “block hours.” These refer to the hours worked from when the aircraft is moved away from the ramp blocks until it is secured back at the destination point. Plaintiff asserts  that by relying exclusively on block hours, Spirit is in violation of the law, since this practice leads to an unlawful omission of the time spent by flight attendants on pre- and post-flight tasks, which amounts to a minimum of 80 to 90 minutes per flight.

According to the FMLA, airline employees are eligible for unpaid medical or family leave if they have worked at least 504 hours in the preceding 12 months. However, as per the complaint, Spirit Airlines imposes a higher requirement, mandating that flight attendants complete 520 hours before being allowed to utilize FMLA leave.

The plaintiff in this case  began his employment with Spirit in November 2013 and had multiple absences in 2019 due to a medical diagnosis. In his lawsuit, he asserts that Spirit erroneously classified his eligible FMLA hours as “sick calls,” which led to the incorrect handling of his leave requests.

After conducting the investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor supported the plaintiff’s claims, affirming that Spirit Airlines had indeed breached the FMLA by neglecting to apply his FMLA leave to specific prior absences. However, in September 2021, despite the department’s findings, Spirit Airlines terminated the plaintiff on the grounds of his attendance record.

In his recent filed complaint, the plaintiff  also raises allegations related to a Spirit Airlines memorandum issued in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This memorandum outlined the provision of COVID-19 voluntary time off for a full month, with an agreement to compensate flight attendants for 36 hours at their respective hourly rates, disbursed in the first pay period of the month. Plaintiff asserts that despite Spirit disbursing 36 hours’ worth of pay each month to flight attendants on COVID-19 Voluntary Time Off, the airline refused to include these hours when calculating flight attendants’ eligibility for FMLA leave.

If you believe you may have a claim against your airline employer for wages or benefits , it’s crucial to seek expert legal guidance. Our attorneys at Fitapelli & Schaffer are well-versed in handling airline employee claims and are ready to assist you. Contact us today for a consultation to understand your rights and options.