Bernstein v. Virgin America

In Bernstein v. Virgin America, Inc., a district court in California has ordered Virgin America to pay more than $77,000,000 in damages, restitution, interest and penalties for a variety of violations of the California Labor Code. The award is the latest example of the tremendous amount of damages and penalties that can be awarded for non-compliance with California’s complex wage and hour laws.

In 2016, the Bernstein Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, certifying a class of California-based flight attendants who had been employed since March 2011.

Then in June 2018, the Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, finding that Virgin America was liable for failure to pay for all hours worked, failure to pay overtime, failure to provide meal and rest breaks, failure to provide accurate wage statements claims and failure to pay for all wages due upon termination, triggering waiting time penalties. Because it granted summary judgment on these claims, the Court also found that Virgin America was liable on the plaintiffs’ claims under California’s Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) and Private Attorneys’ General Act (“PAGA”).

Having determined that Virgin America was liable, the only issue left to resolve was damages and penalties. Last week the Bernstein Court awarded a staggering amount of damages to the certified class. The Court awarded the plaintiffs $45,337,305.29 in damages and restitution as a result of Virgin America’s unpaid wage, overtime and meal and rest period violations. It also imposed wage statement and waiting time penalties in the amount of $6,704,810. The Court awarded the class $3,552.71 per day in interest, assessed since October 25, 2018. And the Court imposed $24,981,150 in civil penalties under PAGA – an amount that reflected a 25% reduction from the maximum available.

In total, the penalties imposed against Virgin America made up more than 40% of the amount awarded to the employees. Although the company intends to appeal a number of the Bernstein Court’s rulings, the enormous award serves to emphasize the need for employers to take steps to ensure compliance with state wage and hour laws. That is particularly so in California, where penalties alone often exceed the damages assessed.