It is no secret that California is a desired and favorable forum for class action litigation. It is therefore not surprising that plaintiffs might try to take advantage of that forum even when the connection between employment and California could be questioned. But how far do California’s tentacles reach?
In Vidrio v. United Airlines, Case No. 2:15-CV-0985-PSG-MRW (C.D. Cal. Mar. 15, 2017), the plaintiffs were United flight attendants who from time to time worked on flights that took off from or landed in one of eight airports in California. They asserted California state law claims based on the airline’s alleged failure to provide California-compliant wage statements. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California certified a class consisting of United employees for whom United had applied California tax laws.
From the outset, however, there were problems with the class members’ connection to California. For example, the bulk of United’s flights are outside of California and the average class member spent more than 80 percent of his or her time outside of California. In addition, United is headquartered in Chicago, and its largest airports are in Chicago, Houston and Newark, not California.
United moved for summary judgment as to the entire class on the grounds that class members spent most of their working time outside of California. The court noted competing tests as to the application of California law, but found that the plaintiffs’ claims failed under either standard. In looking at the time employees actually spent in the state and United’s overall operations, the court observed that “United’s ties to California are minimal relative to its overall business.” It therefore granted summary judgment in United’s favor.
The Vidrio case illustrates two things. First, cases can still be won after class certification. Second, while California is indeed a hospitable forum for employment class action claims, the challenged employment must still have a sufficient California nexus.
The bottom line: Plaintiffs must still demonstrate substantial California employment in order to take advantage of that state’s wage and hour laws.