Flight Attendants Win Class Certification in Pay Suit Against Virgin America

In November 2016, about 1,400 Virgin America flight attendants won class certification from a California federal judge. Their suit includes allegations that Virgin America airline shorted flight attendants on wages for time spent before and after flights, which is a violation of California labor law.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar issued the order certifying a class of approximately 1,400 California-based flight attendants employed by the airline since March of 2011. Virgin America airline was against class certification, stating that California wage law did not apply extraterritorially. This argument was, at least in part, negated by the judge’s creation of a subclass in the certification for California residents who have temporarily left the state in the course of their job duties. Judge Tigar stated clearly that while the law is not settled regarding the applicability of California wage and hour laws to work of California residents outside of the state, but that members can recover unpaid wages for time worked within that state. As every member of the California resident subclass is also a member of the proposed class, the court found certification appropriate. If, later in the case, the court determines that members of the California resident subclass are only eligible to recover payment on hours when their primary job location was California, these members can be easily identified through Virgin’s employment documentation.

The argument presented by the flight attendants in the case is that Virgin does not provide payment for the time before and after flights, during which they are required to write up incident reports, complete training, undergo required drug tests, etc. It was also alleged the Virgin does not provide flight attendants with employment law mandated meal and rest breaks, overtime pay, minimum wages and accurate wage statements. While flight attendants at many of the major airlines are unionized, the Virgin America workers are not. This means they do not have any union protection. They have to rely on the protection of the law.

Currently, Virgin America provides payment to flight attendants based on a “block time” pay schedule based on the time between leaving and arriving at the gate. Work performed outside of this specific time is not compensated. These activities include: pre-flight briefings, passenger boarding and deplaning, etc. Yet the company does provide standard allocation of 30 minutes for drug screening time (regardless of the actual time spent on the test) and four hours of pay for reserve shifts when flight attendants are not assigned a flight (but these airport reserve shifts can last up to six hours).

If you have questions about class certification or what constitutes a violation of employment law, please get in touch with one of the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.