Airline Ordered to Pay Flight Attendants $77 Million in Damages
A class of flight attendants in a case involving alleged violations of California’s wage and hour laws was awarded $77 million in damages. In so doing, the judge rejected the airline’s challenges to the plaintiff’s damages model and reduced the damages requested by the workers by only $8 million. Bernstein et al. v. Virgin America Inc.,No. 3:15-cv-02277 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 16, 2019).
The lawsuit, which was filed in 2015, alleged that Virgin did not pay its flight attendants for all time spent before, after, and between flights, for completing written reports, for time spent training and for undergoing required drug testing. Additionally, it alleged that Virgin did not allow the class of flight attendants to take meal or rest breaks, and that the airline failed to pay overtime and minimum wages.
The court granted class certification in November 2016 to a class of more than 1,000 flight attendants who worked for Virgin on or after March 2011. Virgin later moved for summary judgment arguing, among other things, that the California Labor Code did not apply to the class members’ claims because they all did not work principally or exclusively in California. The court rejected that argument, reasoning that Virgin made decisions about how it would pay its flight attendants and then proceeded in accordance with those decisions exclusively from its headquarters in California and, therefore, California law applied. The class later moved for, and won, summary judgment on their claims against the airline.
This decision, which likely will be appealed, highlights for employers the importance of compliance with not only federal wage and hour laws, but the various state wage and hour laws in which employers operate.