Gunther v. Alaska Airlines, Inc.Annotate this Case
The plaintiffs (collectively, "Gunther") in this case were flight attendants who alleged their employer, Alaska Airlines, Inc. (Alaska), failed to provide California Labor Code section 226(a)-compliant wage statements. They sought penalties under the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA). After a bench trial, the trial court concluded that section 226(a) applied to the flight attendants because their employment was based in California and Alaska’s wage statements did not comply with section 226(a). The court found Alaska liable for over $25 million in heightened penalties under section 226.3 of PAGA. In a postjudgment order, the court awarded Gunther attorney’s fees. Notwithstanding the implications of Ward v. United Airlines, Inc., 9 Cal.5th 732 (2020, "Ward I"), Alaska contended that section 226(a) could not be applied to the flight attendants because it was preempted by federal law. Alaska also raised multiple challenges to PAGA penalties, including that the trial court erred in awarding heightened penalties under section 226.3 of PAGA. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected Alaska’s argument that application of section 226 was preempted by federal law and affirmed the trial court’s determination that the flight attendants in this case were entitled to section 226(a)-compliant wage statements. The Court also concluded, however, that the trial court erred in awarding heightened penalties under section 226.3 because the plain language of the statute provided that heightened penalties applied only where the employer failed to provide wage statements or failed to keep required records, which was not the situation here. The Court found reversal of the penalty award did not require vacation of the attorney’s fees award. In the unpublished portion of its opinion, the Court rejected Alaska’s defenses to the application of section 226(a).