Williams v. United Airlines, Inc., 500 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 2007)

Anthony L. Williams, a maintenance worker, sued United Airlines and his former supervisor, alleging retaliatory discrimination under the Federal Airline Deregulation Act’s Whistleblower Protection Program (WPP) and related state law claims. Williams claimed that he was terminated in retaliation for a dispute related to an alleged safety violation. Although United did not challenge the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction, the Ninth Circuit nonetheless raised the issue of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte and concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction because the WPP does not create a right of action – it merely confers authority on the Secretary of Labor to accept complaints from aggrieved employees. Compare Ventress v. Japan Airlines, 486 F.3d 1111 (9th Cir. 2007) (California’s whistleblower protection laws are not preempted by international treaty between the United States and Japan); cf. AmerisourceBergen v. Roden, 495 F.3d 1143 (9th Cir. 2007) (district court erroneously applied Younger abstention doctrine in dismissing employer’s breach of contract claim filed against its former CEO).