Tuesday, June 30, 2020
California Supreme Court:
Labor Statute Applies to Flight Crew Members Based in State
Questions Answered Certified to State High Court by Ninth Circuit; Justices Say Applicability of Provision on Wage Statements Depends Where Pilot, Flight Attendant Reports for Work
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday replied to a question certified by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether Labor Code §226, which governs wage statement requirements, applies to statements supplied by pilots and flight attendants who reside in the state but do not principally work in any one state, answering yes—if they are “based” in California.
Their place of residence, Justice Leondra Kruger said in an opinion for a unanimous court, is not determinative.
The Ninth Circuit had before it three cases, filed in state court and removed to the District Court—two brought by flight attendants and one by pilots—accusing United Airlines of systematic violations of Labor Code §226 which specifies the content and format of wage statements. Questions certified in those consolidated appeals, brought by the plaintiffs, were confronted in Ward v. United Airlines, Inc., 2020 S.O.S. 3135.
Primarily Works Elsewhere
One of two questions posed by the Ninth Circuit was whether §226 applies where the employee is a California resident and who is paid here and pays here taxes but does not devote the majority of time to duties while in or flying over this state.
“We conclude that whether plaintiffs are entitled to California-compliant wage statements depends on whether their principal place of work is in California. For pilots, flight attendants, and other interstate transportation workers who do not perform a majority of their work in any one state, this test is satisfied when California serves as their base of work operations, regardless of their place of residence or whether a collective bargaining agreement governs their pay.”
She explained that in light of the Legislature’s concern in providing protections to workers, the intent behind §226 inferably was to extend “within reason” the provisions “to workers who perform at least some of their work in California, even if they do not perform all or most of their work in California.” What matters, she said, is not where they reside, receive their pay, or pay taxes, but whether California “serves as the physical location where the worker presents himself or herself to begin work.”
The jurist remarked:
“This is not a new concept in labor law; this is, in fact, the same general test that has been applied for some decades in the field of unemployment insurance, where the Legislature has paid focused attention to the problem of coverage for employees whose work is not localized in any one state….Applied to section 226, it means that workers are covered if they perform the majority of their work in California; but if they do not perform the majority of their work in any one state, they will be covered if they are based for work purposes in California.”
The Ninth Circuit also inquired as to the effect of California Industrial Wage Commission’s Wage Order No. 9. It, like §226, sets forth requirements for wage statements but exempts from it provisions employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement under the federal Railway Labor Act—which includes the plaintiffs in the actions against United Airlines.
The Ninth Circuit queried whether Wage Order No. 9 precludes an action for a violation of §226 by an employee who is covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Kruger replied that the wage order is narrower than the statute—and while “it is undisputed that United need not comply with the itemized statement requirements of the wage order”—the exemption does not have any broader application that the order, rejecting United’s argument that the exemption should be imported into §226.
“Given the number of times the Legislature has revisited and revised section 226 since the Railway Labor Act exemption was first promulgated in 1976,” Kruger said, “we can be sure that the Legislature’s failure to adopt the exemption is not for want of attention to the statute.”
In a separate opinion—in Oman v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 2020 S.O.S. 3144—Kruger reiterated the holding in Ward, and dealt with additional questions presented by the Ninth Circuit. She again wrote for a unanimous court; Justice Goodwin H. Liu wrote a concurring opinion, in which Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar joined.
The applicability to flight attendants of Labor Code §204—which requires timely remittance of wages—was addressed by Kruger who said that just as “California’s wage statement laws apply only to flight attendants who have their base of work operations in California, …the same is true of California laws governing the timing of wage payments.”
She found that Delta’s complex formula for determining pay is “relatively unusual,” it does not violate California’s minimum wage laws and there is therefore no “need not settle the reach of the state’s minimum wage laws.”
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