Gunther v. Alaska Airlines, Inc., 72 Cal. App. 5th 334 (2021)

Julie Gunther is an Alaska Airlines flight attendant who lives in San Diego. In this PAGA claim, Gunther alleged that her wage statements are not compliant with Cal. Labor Code § 226 because they fail to state the total hours worked; the number of piece-rate units earned and any applicable piece rate if the employee is paid on a piece-rate basis; and the corresponding rate of pay for each. Following a bench trial, the trial court found the wage statements to be deficient and awarded over $25 million in PAGA penalties to the aggrieved employees and $944,860 in attorneys’ fees. The Court of Appeal affirmed liability against Alaska Airlines, but determined that the heightened penalties under Labor Code § 226.3 apply only where the employer fails to provide wage statements or keep required records – neither of which Alaska Airlines did. Alaska Airlines argued, and the Court of Appeal agreed, that the default penalty amount set forth in Cal. Labor Code § 2699(f)(2) ($100 per aggrieved employee per pay period) should be applied by the trial court upon remand. In so holding, the Court of Appeal refused to follow Raines v. Coastal Pac. Food Distributors, 23 Cal. App. 5th 667 (2018), which held that the heightened penalties of Section 226.3 apply to “all violations of section 226.” The Court affirmed the award of attorneys’ fees. See also Santos v. El Guapos Tacos, LLC, 72 Cal. App. 5th 363 (2021) (former employees’ LWDA notice provided facts and theories sufficient to put agency on notice of specified Labor Code violations).