9th Circuit: California Labor Laws May Apply to Aviation Workers


Aviation Employers with AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, WA,
Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands Employees


February 23, 2021


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In Bernstein v. Virgin America, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal stated that California’s wage and hour laws are not preempted by federal law in the aviation context. Specifically, employees there alleged that Virgin failed to pay state minimum wage, overtime, and for every hour worked; failed to provide required meal periods, rest breaks, and accurate wage statements; failed to pay waiting time penalties; and violated the Unfair Competition Law.  Employees also sought compensation under the California Labor Code’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA).

Following the rules set forth in Ward v. United Airlines, the court stated that California wage and hour laws were not preempted by federal law. Looking at each alleged violation in this particular case, the court reviewed whether the wage and hour laws had been violated. Of note, the court applied California overtime law to California residents’ out-of-state work. Additionally, federal aviation laws do not preempt California’s meal and rest laws because they have no direct bearing on aviation safety, do not conflict with federal law, and have no significant impact on airline prices, routes, or services.

The court also stated that the employer was not subject to heightened penalties for subsequent violations under PAGA because the employer was not notified of the violations by a court or the Labor Commissioner, until the district court in this case made that determination. An employer cannot be presumed to be aware that its continuing underpayment of employees is a violation until it has received notice. Therefore, the heightened penalties did not apply to any employer violations prior to the district court’s ruling.

Action Items

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Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

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