In November 2023, a former Delta employee filed a seven-page PAGA lawsuit in the Superior Court of the State of California in Los Angeles. Plaintiff Mitchel Garnett argues that Delta required that he and “all aggrieved employees” use their personal cell phone to check the status of flights in order to deliver cargo and use their personal computers to request days off, check vacation check balances, and respond to emails. These cell phones and computers were necessary to perform job duties but they were not provided by Delta, according to the complaint.
Garnett proposes Delta should pay $100 for the initial breach of the labor code per worker per pay period and $200 for each subsequent breach thereafter per worker per pay period. According to the complaint, “These penalties will be allocated 75% to the Labor & Workforce Development Agency and 25% to the affected employees.” All aggrieved employees could total over 90,000, according to a 2022 estimation of the airline’s work force, which can translate to about $468,000,000 for every year this practice persisted – a supposedly simple error can result in massive penalties and fines.
At least one attorney advises that employers pay close attention to reimbursement of employee business expenses. Take the Thai v. IBM decision, for instance. Paul Thai was employed by IBM, which directed its employees to continue working at home during COVID. He required internet access, telephone service, a telephone headset, and a computer and accessories.
The Court determined that an employer is required to reimburse an employee “for all necessary expenditures …incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties.” Further, the Court held that what matters is whether an employee incurs expenses “in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer.”
Law360 notes that about ten years ago, a wage and hour class action against Delta was filed in California federal court, alleging meal and rest break violations, failing to maintain required records, properly paying overtime and failing to reimburse employees for mandatory work-related items from third-party vendors. It cost Delta $4.25 million to appease the plaintiffs. And last year, McGee Air Services was granted approval of a $420,000 settlement. A group of 43,876 station agents, aircraft fleet workers, aircraft agents, ramp agents, customer service agents, interline agents and their superiors, accused the Alaska Airlines unit of failing to reimburse them for work related cellphone use. They too used their cell phones for company communications and job duties, including tracking aircraft landings via a downloaded app.
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PAGA vs. Class Action
Plaintiff Mitchel Garnett brings his claims through a Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) lawsuit. This type of legal proceeding allows an aggrieved employee to file a representative action over alleged California Labor Code violations. A PAGA lawsuit is different from a class action—more information about class action vs. PAGA is here.