A class-action lawsuit claiming SkyWest Airlines systemically underpays its flight attendants was transferred Dec. 9 from a federal court district in California to Chicago federal court, joining a virtually identical class action already pending against the airline in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The defendants, St. George, Utah-based SkyWest Airlines and SkyWest Inc., are being represented by Amanda C. Sommerfeld and Bennett J. Kaspar, of Winston & Strawn LLP. The lawsuit, Case No. 15-CV-11117, was filed Nov. 9 in San Francisco federal court by a group of SkyWest flight attendants, identified in the complaint as named plaintiffs Cheryl Tapp, Renee Sitavich, Sarah Hudson, Brandon Colson and Bruno Lozano. They were represented by Eric H. Gibbs, Dylan Hughes and Steve Lopez of Girard Gibbs LLP, Gregory F. Coleman and Lisa A. White of Greg Coleman Law, PC, and Edward A. Wallace and Amy E. Keller of Wexler Wallace LLP.
On Nov. 27, the attorneys for SkyWest filed a motion to transfer venue pursuant to the “first to file” rule, noting the California version of the lawsuit against SkyWest was a “copycat action,” echoing the allegations and complaints leveled by plaintiffs in the litigation pending against SkyWest in Chicago.
That case, which was filed in March and is docketed as 1:15-cv-02036 Hirst et al v. Skywest Airlines, Inc. et al, is awaiting a decision by U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp Jr. on a motion to dismiss brought by the defendants in July.
The plaintiffs in the California lawsuit did not oppose the transfer to Illinois, which was approved Dec. 9 by U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney.
At the heart of the lawsuits is the plaintiffs’ claim that SkyWest flight attendants are required to work far more hours than those for which they are paid. According to the lawsuits, SkyWest and the Federal Aviation Administration both require flight attendants to be responsible for a number of pre-flight and post-flight tasks, requiring them to arrive up to an hour before their scheduled flight and often causing them to continue working long after the last passenger has left the plane. SkyWest flight attendants, however, are only paid from the time the cabin door closes at the beginning of the flight to 15 minutes after the last passenger has left the plane, according to the lawsuits.
A sample schedule attached to the lawsuits shows that a flight attendant who was paid for 19 hours and 10 minutes of work over four days in 2012 allegedly actually put in 33 hours and 44 minutes of on-duty time in that same time period. All of the flight attendants’ on-duty time is recorded, though they are only paid for the block of time from a few minutes before the aircraft takes off to 15 minutes after the last passenger leaves, the complaints said.
“Although certain of flight attendants’ required work activities fall beyond the duty day, SkyWest does not acknowledge the time spent on these activities,” the California lawsuit stated. “Virtually every duty day for every flight attendant includes a significant amount of easily measurable uncompensated work time.”
The lawsuits said the flight attendants are also undercompensated when flight delays or gate changes cause last-minute changes to their schedules. And though they are required by both company policy and federal law to undertake specific training courses, they are only paid half their regular wage for the time SkyWest estimates it will take them to complete their training – even if the training course actually takes longer than estimated, according to court documents.
The lawsuit includes a nationwide opt-in class, plus several statewide opt-in classes. The statewide classes were to accommodate specific charges brought under minimum wage and labor laws in California, Arizona and Washington, and under wage and labor ordinances in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The lawsuits have requested back pay for unpaid hours, liquidated damages, court costs, and a guarantee that flight attendants in the future will be paid for all duty time. The plaintiffs have also asked the court to issue an injunction forcing SkyWest to provide clearly written explanations to flight attendants in the future showing all required work hours and pay and redesigned pay stubs that clearly note what amounts are wages, what are reimbursements, and what are imputed income.