A recent Law 360 by Abby Wargo, “United Flight Attendants’ Attys Seek $18.1M Cut of $54M Deal,” reports that counsel for a class of United Airlines flight attendants who accused the airline of issuing deficient wage statements asked a California federal judge to approve an $18.1 million fee award after an "intense battle" that led to a $54 million settlement. Kirk D. Hanson and Jeffrey C. Jackson of Jackson Hanson LLP, who are representing the flight attendants, called the eight-year wage suit "an intense battle from beginning to end," according to their motion for attorney fees, and they should be properly compensated considering the difficulty of achieving success. They also requested an additional $90,000 in expenses.
A federal judge in February had preliminarily approved the $53.5 million settlement, which the motion says has since accrued interest and now totals $54.4 million, but asked the flight attendants' attorneys to justify their request for a third of the settlement, as it exceeds the state benchmark. The final approval hearing will be in June.
The attorneys said the settlement, which will provide each class member with an average of $3,230 even after attorney fees and costs are deducted, is an exceptional outcome for the plaintiffs, as it exceeds 80% of the highest recovery they could have received through trial. The typical individual recovery range in a wage and hour class action is 10% to 27%, they said. Additionally, they said other state and federal courts routinely approve attorney fees equaling one-third of settlement funds.
Also proper are the $20,000 service awards for each named plaintiff, Felicia Vidrio and Paul Bradley, the attorneys said, because they took on significant risks in representing the class and would have been on the hook for attorney fees had they lost. Their time and effort in assisting their attorneys should be recognized, according to the motion.
Even more important than the monetary awards, the attorneys said, is that United changed the format of its wage statements for California-based flight attendants to comply with state statute. The wage statements now show all hours worked during a pay period and the hourly pay rate, the motion says. "This is arguably the most important win in this case because it will continue on indefinitely and allow the flight attendants to quickly and easily verify the correct payment of their wages," the attorneys said in the motion.
These outcomes would never have been possible if the plaintiffs and their attorneys had given up, the motion says, because "at every turn in this litigation United mounted a vigorous defense." The workers and their attorneys said that by reversing summary judgment and reviving their case after trips to both the Ninth Circuit and California Supreme Court, they set precedent clarifying how state labor law applies to interstate transportation workers.
Under the terms of the settlement, the non-reversionary $54 million fund includes attorney fees, $20,000 service awards for both class representatives, and a Private Attorneys General Act settlement of $300,000, with about $35 million going to the settlement class on a pro rata basis. Members of the class are defined as all flight attendants employed by United and based at a California airport between August 2014 and March 31, 2023. Any remaining funds will be given to a cy pres recipient, Legal Aid at Work, according to the deal.