Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Judge Denies Class Action in Labor Suit Against SkyWest Airlines
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has handed SkyWest Airlines, Inc., a victory by denying a motion for class certification in a suit by a former employee alleging violations of overtime and meal period rules.
Judge Dana M. Sabraw Thursday rejected a request by Tiffany Blackwell, a former baggage service agent at SkyWest, to certify a class of nearly 4,000 current and former SkyWest customer service agents in California, finding that Blackwell failed to demonstrate that common questions predominated over individual issues within the proposed subclasses.
Blackwell filed a class action suit against SkyWest in January of last year alleging that the airline violated state and federal laws by denying meal breaks, issuing inaccurate wage statements, imposing unlawful alternative workweek schedules resulting in unpaid overtime, refusing to pay overtime for voluntary shift trades, and deducting wages to pay for travel benefits without express authorization. In June of this year she asked the court to certify five separate subclasses, including ticketing agents, gate agents, ramp agents and baggage service agents.
Sabraw initially agreed with Blackwell that the proposed classes involved potentially numerous members, that joining such members as individual parties was impracticable, and that the case presented questions of law or fact common to members of the proposed classes. However, the judge found that Blackwell’s claims could not be considered “typical” as to all of the proposed classes due to a lack of standing, and that Blackwell could not adequately represent the interests of all of the proposed classes due to potential conflicts of interest presented by the presence of supervisors within the proposed classes and the fact that she was no longer a SkyWest employee.
The judge also found that rulings in potential actions by members of the individual proposed classes would subject SkyWest to incompatible judgments requiring inconsistent conduct, that Blackwell’s motivation for seeking relief was financial benefit, rather than a change in SkyWest’s practices for current employees, and that Blackwell presented no clear justification for handling claims of the proposed class members in a class action instead of on an individual basis.
Patricia T. Stambelos, assistant general counsel for SkyWest, said yesterday that she was pleased not only by the outcome, but also by the support of other SkyWest employees who filed over 100 declarations disputing Blackwell’s claims. Stambelos also said that she hoped the decision represents a possible retreat from the current trend in California state and federal courts to routinely certify similar wage-and-hour class actions.
John P. Dorigan, counsel for Blackwell, said that he did not know if he agreed with this interpretation, but that the plaintiff continued to believe that the proposed classes should be certified. “We think the case can and should be handled on a class basis, and we are still looking at the Judge’s order closely,” he told the MetNews.
Dorigan indicated that his client was still reviewing the possibility of an appeal.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company