Seyfarth Synopsis: A California federal judge has held that an out-of-state employee’s limited presence in California is not enough on its own to require the employer to comply with California wage and hour laws. Oman v. Delta Air Lines. But the judge also opined that other factors—such as the employer’s place of business, and the nature and duration of the employee’s presence in California—could implicate California wage and hour laws in some other case

The Facts

On a monthly basis, Delta’s flight attendants (an airline headquartered outside California) bid on flight rotations departing from their respective base airports. Delta, like many airlines, does not separately pay flight attendants for each hour worked. Rather, it uses various formulas that account for such factors as anticipated flight time, actual delays, and contingencies. Delta applies the formula that yields the highest amount of pay. These wages are paid in the month following the flight attendant’s performance, splitting the total amount due over two semi-monthly pay periods. Four flight attendants—three currently based out of California airports—filed a class action, claiming that whenever flight attendants fly in or out of California, the California Labor Code governs their work for that pay period. Following a court order granting partial summary judgment for Delta on the minimum-wage claim, Delta filed a pre-certification summary judgment motion on the remaining claims, which challenged the applicability of Section 226 (requiring itemized wage statements) and Section 204 (governing the timing of pay). Meanwhile, the flight attendants, invoking Section 204, cross-moved for summary adjudication of their claims for untimely wage payments.

The District Court's Order 

Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California granted Delta’s motion and denied the flight attendants’ motion, ruling that Sections 204 and 226 did not apply to their work. Judge Orrick rejected the flight attendants’ contention that even de minimis work within California automatically triggers its wage and hour protections. Judge Orrick endorsed the reasoning of fellow Northern District Judge William Alsup, who recently ruled that Section 226 does not apply to pilots who, though California residents, work primarily out of state. Judge Orrick, using a multi-factor analysis, reasoned that the flight attendants’ limited working time in California, coupled with the nature of their jobs (requiring them to be in federal airspace and in multiple jurisdictions within a single pay period and even a single day), weighed against applying Sections 204 and 226 to their work. In further support of that conclusion, Judge Orrick noted that Delta is headquartered outside of California and that the flight attendants had disavowed the relevancy of their California residency. Judge Orrick distinguished a recent order issued by yet another Northern District judge, Jon S. Tigar, who ruled that California wage and hour protections did apply to a class of flight attendants where the entire class consisted of California residents who sometimes worked consecutive days flying solely between California airports, and where the airline employer, headquartered in California, had “deep ties” to California.

What Oman Means for Employers

Out-of-state employers with nonresident employees infrequently visiting California for work purposes might now breathe a little easier in the hope that California’s wage and hour protections not apply to these employees. But Oman teaches that determining whether California employment law applies to fly-by employees is not subject to bright-line tests, but rather depends on various factors considered on a case-by-case basis. While federal courts have been the ones grappling with this issue thus far, it is the California Supreme Court that will have the last word.