Florida business wins minimum wage court case brought by part-time Miami International Airport worker

By Jana Hill | Feb 19, 2019

MIAMI — Ultra Aviation Services won a case in court against an employee in a decision that demonstrated one of many exceptions to minimum wage requirements.  

In the case of Ultra Aviation Services, Inc. vs. Lisvan L. Cruz Clemente and Miami-Dade County, the court ruled in favor of Ultra Aviation Services, noting that the company's contract with the airport was not bound by county ordinances regarding minimum wage.

Ultra is a Florida-based company that offers aeronautical and passenger services at MIA, in cooperation with private and commercial airlines. Cruz is a part-time employee of Ultra.

The living wage requirements at the county level were put in place nearly two decades ago, with the intent “to allow citizens to support themselves and their families above the poverty line and with dignity,” the county’s website states. The County site says it applies to all service contractors at MIA. 

The lawsuit circled around Cruz’s allegations of reduced hours and threats of termination: He alleged that both Ultra and the county were bound to section 2-8.9 of the LWO, in the Miami-Dade Code of Ordinances. Ultra contended that section 218.077 of Florida state law pre-empted statutes cited by Cruz’s defense, making LWO’s health plan parameters invalid. 

The Living Wage Ordinance (LWO), penned by the County, allows employers to pay less than minimum wage, only if health care benefits are offered at a level defined by state law, the brief said. Cruz alleged Ultra was noncompliant within the scope of LWO and Florida state law.

The court ruled that while Ultra is defined as a a General Aeronautical Services Permittee (GASP), and therefore governed by contracts with the airport, County ordinances do not apply. The court’s disagreement with Cruz’s allegations was based on the fact that the County is not a party to the contract in question.

Minimum wage laws are governed nationwide by federal and state laws, with a requirement for employees to be paid the highest of the two, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Exceptions may apply when the employee is disabled, a full-time student or student-learner, under the age of 20 and in his or her first 90 days of employment, or is also paid tips. 

Florida’s current minimum wage in $8.46 per hour, according to the Employment Law Handbook (ELH). The minimum wage varies from state to state with nearby Georgia and Texas at $7.25, and Alabama at $9.25. On the West Coast, the minimum wage is $12 per hour in Washington State, and $11 per hour in California. Exemptions may vary, but in the state of Florida, all exemptions allowed under the Fair Labor Standards Act have been adopted, per the ELH.

The case was presided over by U.S. District Judge Rodney King. Ultra was represented by attorneys Miguel De Grandy and Daniel P. Hanlon of Holland & Knight LLP. Cruz was represented by attorneys from three firms: Fairlaw Firm; Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A.; and Beckham & Beckham, P.A. Representing Miami-Dade County were its own attorneys: Abigail Price-Williams, David M. Murray, Cynji A. Lee, and Altanese Phenelus.

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