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Ward v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 19, 2016

CHARLES E. WARD, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,




         In this certified class action involving alleged deficiencies on pay stubs for airline pilots, both sides move for summary judgment. To the extent stated below, defendant’s motion for summary judgment is Granted. Plaintiff’s is Denied.


         At all relevant times, plaintiff Charles E. Ward worked as a pilot for defendant United Airlines, Inc., a major passenger airline serving destinations all over the world. Ward resided (and continues to reside) in Marin County. A prior order certified a class defined as follows (Dkt. No. 44 at 14):

All persons who are or were employed by United Airlines, Inc., as pilots for whom United applied California income tax laws pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 40116(f)(2) at any time from April 3, 2014 up to April 3, 2015.

         Section 40116(f)(2) of Title 49 of the United States Code provides two means for determining which state’s income tax laws applies to an airline worker: (i) the state of the employee’s residence, or (ii) the state in which the employee earned more than fifty percent of his or her pay. United applied California tax laws to the class members (and all pilots nationally) based on their place of residence, because its pilots rarely, if ever, performed more than half their work in any one state (Spars Decl. ¶ 5).

         All agree that the class members have been fully paid their compensation; the disagreement is over the form of statement of wages. All got a statement but class counsel insists the statement should have followed the California-prescribed form of statement. This order disagrees.

         Class members spent less than an average of twelve percent of their total work time within California, which broke down to approximately three percent of the total work time on flights entirely within California and eight-and-a-half percent of the time on flights within the geographical bounds of California on flights in or out of California. The record does not, however, reflect the range of the class members’ time in California nor whether any pilot spent a majority of his or her flight time in California during any bid period. Of the examples provided by United, the greatest amount of work time spent in California in a single bid period was forty-two percent. Ward himself spent a maximum of thirty-six percent of his work time in California, though he averaged twenty percent in 2014 and fifteen percent in 2015 (Baker Decl. ¶¶ 8, 11, 20-21).[1]

         United assigned routes to pilots according to schedules that roughly equated to calendar months called “bid periods” (so called because pilots could bid for particular routes, which United assigned according to seniority). In a given bid period, a pilot could work as a lineholder pilot, meaning United assigned him or her a predetermined flight schedule, or a reserve pilot, meaning he or she remained on call to fly segments as-needed. A collective bargaining agreement between United and the Air Line Pilots Association, established pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, governed the terms and conditions of employment for United’s pilots, including the scheduling procedure and compensation structure (White Decl. ¶¶ 2-3).

         United paid its pilots twice monthly, on the first and the sixteenth day of each month. The collective bargaining agreement set forth three methods for calculating a pilot’s total pay for a bid period: (i) line-pay value, (ii) minimum-pay guarantee, and (iii) protected-time credit (available only to lineholder pilots). A pilot’s total compensation for a bid period would be the largest of the three measures. United, however, calculated the amount of the first payment in a bid period (on the first of the month) based on a formulaic estimate of the total hours it anticipated the pilot would work during the pay period. United called this first payment a “Flight Advance.” The second payment (on the sixteenth of the month) amounted to the difference between the Flight Advance and the total compensation owed to the pilot for that pay period (again, the greater of the three measures identified above) plus certain bonuses (called “add pay”) (KohSweeny Decl., Exh. G; White Decl. ¶ 4).

         The line-pay value constituted the primary means of calculating each pilot’s compensation, and United calculated it as the pilot’s time spent performing various work activities (such as piloting, co-piloting, taxiing, training, or flying as a passenger on a flight in order to start an assignment from a different city) multiplied by the applicable rates for each respective activity as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement. The determination of the applicable rates depended not only on the nature of the activity, but also the type of aircraft, the pilot’s title, and the pilot’s seniority. The minimum-pay guarantee (available to all pilots) and the protected-time credit (available only to lineholder pilots) each calculated total pay based on a formula relating to a pilot’s assignments, rather than his or her actual hours worked. This ensured that pilots did not get penalized for accepting shorter flight segments (which yielded lower compensation) or for unavoidable circumstances such as flight cancellations or schedule changes. In other words, the latter measures could only be triggered if a pilot’s actual time worked during a bid period fell short of the amount expected based on his or her assignment for that period (White Decl. ¶¶ 7-8).

         As stated, the amount of a pilot’s first paycheck in a bid period (the Flight Advance) never related to the hours the pilot actually worked during that bid period. The second paycheck in a bid period only related to the hours the pilot actually worked if the greatest of the three measures identified above was the line-pay value.

         United issued a “pay advice” to each pilot, which detailed the pilot’s wages for the given pay period. For pilots who received paper paychecks, United issued pilots’ pay advices appended to the checks. For pilots who received payment via direct deposit, United delivered the pay advices through its internal website and offered pilots the option to receive a paper copy in the mail. The pay advices did not list pilots’ hours worked or the applicable rates, regardless of the ...

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