In Ventress v. Japan Airlines, ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. March 28, 2014), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (Judge Kobayashi) granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s California-based retaliation and constructive discharge claims.
Plaintiff, a former flight engineer and a resident of California, sued defendant employer airline for claims of retaliation under California’s whistleblower statute and wrongful termination, alleging that his employment was constructively discharged for reporting safety concerns about certain pilots’ fitness to fly. Defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the Federal Aviation Act preempted plaintiff’s state law claims because ruling on those claims would require the finder of fact to consider whether or not plaintiff was medically fit to carry out his duties as a flight engineer, and this would intrude on the area of airmen medical standards “which Congress intended to occupy exclusively.” The District granted the motion and denied plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration. Plaintiff then appealed.
The appellate court agreed with the District Court, concluding that resolving plaintiff’s California state law claims would, indeed, require the factfinder to intrude upon the federally-occupied field of aviation safety by deciding questions of pilot medical standards and qualifications.