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Airline Moves to Ground Plaintiff’s California Labor Lawsuit

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Oakland, CAA California labor lawsuit has pitted a California resident against her former employer, Hawaiian Airlines Inc. At issue is whether, or not plaintiff Kathryn Otico was entitled to payment for time spent training in a program operated by the airline. The plaintiff claims she is owed wages for the 10-day training program under regulations entrenched in the Fair Labor Standards Act and California labor law. The airline, for its part, disagrees and has moved for summary judgement in the five-month-old action.

Otico filed her California labor code lawsuit in May.

The plaintiff is a resident of California who interviewed for a customer service position with the defendant in December of last year. According to court papers, the hiring process involved a 10-day training and orientation session that ran daily from 8:30am, through 5pm on the days training was provided.

The sessions were unpaid. Thus, Otico attended at least 80 hours of training and orientation on her own time. Her lawsuit, citing FLSA regulations and California labor employment law, claims that training and orientation participants are required to be paid at least minimum wage “because, among other things, attendance was mandatory, the course material was related to the trainee’s job, and attendance was during regular working hours,” according to court records.

The plaintiff duly completed the training, which included sessions on federal regulatory requirements and navigating standard airline software systems. According to court papers Otico completed the training in December, 2015 and upon meeting additional requirements was hired as an employee of the airline.

The plaintiff’s tenure, however, ended after just a few weeks when Otico resigned, citing “mismanagement and other factors.”

The defendant, in moving for summary judgement, claims that Hawaiian Airlines meets a six-part test under the auspices of the US Department of Labor in determining whether, or not trainees are in actual fact employees. The airline claims that Otico did not meet the criteria as an employee, doing actual work. The defendant also cites a claim that similar training in kind would have cost thousands of dollars were instruction to have been taken at a vocational school. Citing an example, the airline noted that its program was similar to a five-week program provided at The Airline Academy that runs almost $7,000 for tuition and materials.

The defendant also noted a cost to the airline, given that the work normally performed by the instructor over the course of the ten-day orientation and training would have been covered off by someone else, effectively translating to a cost for the defendant.

Hawaiian Air also claimed the plaintiff was aware, prior to the start of training, that the training course was unpaid.

Because all “the economic realities demonstrate that Otico obtained the greatest benefit from the training, not Hawaiian, Otico cannot prove that she was an ‘employee’ engaged in ‘work’ during the [training],” the airline wrote. “The economic realities, therefore, do not provide Otico with any ground to seek compensation for the time she spent in training.”

Otico proposed her lawsuit as a California and labor law putative class action. Hawaiian Airlines moved for summary judgment on October 6. There has been no ruling on the motion as of yet.

The case is Kathryn Otico v. Hawaiian Airlines Inc., Case No. 16-cv-02557, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

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