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Wednesday, 07 March 2018 00:00

Did American Airlines underpay its workers?

Written by Jonathan Druckman

A recent class action lawsuit was filed claiming that baggage handlers and other maintenance employees who work for American Airlines at Liberty International Airport, in Newark, New Jersey, were routinely underpaid because the airline programmed their time clocks to round down, thereby reducing the amount of actual hours that the workers are paid.

According to the suit, the Airline’s timekeeping system only credits employees for the period of time they are scheduled to work, but it cuts off the pay for workers who put in longer hours than were scheduled, The lawyers for the Plaintiffs claim that this action is in violation of New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Laws.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs filed a request to have the lawsuit classified as a “class action” which was granted by Federal Court Judge Jose Linares. The lawsuit alleges that the company set up its time clocks to automatically reduce the amount of time that its workers were given credit for working. As a result, it is claimed that, the employees were not paid the full amount of the wages and overtime that they were owed. The suit is divided into 3 different subclasses. The suit also accuses the Airline of failing to offer its hourly workers compensatory time instead of payments for overtime. It also claims that American required the baggage handlers to perform “off-the-clock” work both before clocking in, and after clocking out.

Witnesses have reportedly claimed that the Airline’s managers required employees to regularly arrive early and stay late in order to finish their work. Apparently, this was required in order to compensate for a shortage of labor. It is alleged that the amount of time for which employees were not properly paid ranges from 1 to 4 hours each week. The hourly rate of pay for these workers ranges from approximately $11.00 to over $40.00 per hour.

The Plaintiffs claim that there are at least 100 members of the class and that the class members’ alleged claims are over $5 million in total. At this time, the suit has only been brought on behalf of the New Jersey employees

American Airlines is defending against this lawsuit and at this point there has been no resolution of the case.

Class actions, such as this, can often benefit those, like the airline workers, who may have suffered a loss, but where the individual losses are not very large. Individual Lawsuits are very expensive. Unless the likelihood of the recovery is significant, it often times is not economically viable to pursue an individual lawsuit. One of the chief advantages of a class action lawsuit is that it can allow a relatively large number of people to make claims for losses that would otherwise be too small to make it worthwhile to pursue individual lawsuits. Another advantage of class actions are that it is less time consuming for the Court and both the plaintiff and defendant’s attorneys to pursue one class action lawsuit, rather than many individual claims.

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