Lawsuits have long been the bane of any HR managers’ existence, and it should surprise no one that litigation involving employment and workplace issues is evolving and growing. Here are some of the highlights, or lowlights as it were.
Employment discrimination class actions with big verdicts are supplying plenty of headlines. Last year saw the biggest employment class action trial verdict ever; Velez, et al. v. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp, settled last summer for $175 million.
History shows big verdicts not only tend to spike the value of other subsequent class action settlements, but can also directly lead to copycat litigation filings.
There were also landmark decisions relating to the granting of class status (Rule 23 interpretations) last year. Those decisions include Dukes, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case concerning the certification of the largest employment discrimination class action ever—a pay and promotions class of approximately 1.5 million female workers.
A bad economy and low hiring rates last year fueled more class action and collective action litigation. Many of those were filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) seeking recovery for unpaid work time and overtime wages.
In terms of the numbers, wage and hour litigation continues to out-pace all other types of workplace class actions.
Democratic losses and Republican gains in Congress through the recent mid-term elections is contributing to heightened workplace litigation exposures for employers. However, even as Democratic legislative initiatives for labor and employment reform stalled, the Obama administration continues to try and ramp up its enforcement efforts through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
The Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA) continues to impact workplace litigation, particularly on wage & hour class actions filed at the state court level the past 12 or 13 months.
The class action plaintiffs' bar is in flux due to rapid developments with regard to the ability to form a class and who can be a member of the class.
Finally, as we alluded to at the top of this piece, the financial stakes in workplace class action litigation are on the rise. Plaintiffs' lawyers are always working on damage theories to expand the size of classes and the scope of recoveries.
The resulted was a series of massive settlements in nationwide class actions particularly in the context of employment discrimination and wage & hour litigation. Don’t look for that to lessen this year.
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