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Explainer: Employment law class action lawsuits

by | Sep 24, 2020 | Employment Law

The truth and power in the old saying that there is strength in numbers is especially evident in employment law class action lawsuits. Rather than facing one lawsuit at a time filed by individual employees, an employer that routinely violates California employment law could face a class action that includes dozens, hundreds or even thousands of employees who have experienced similar discrimination or other workplace abuse.

A class action lawsuit ensures that your story is heard and that you have taken decisive action that can result in just compensation for the workplace wrongdoing that you and others have experienced.

Nuts and bolts of a class action lawsuit

The most fundamental aspect of a class action lawsuit is that it involves a group (any number larger than one) of employees, former employees or job applicants who have all been harmed in a similar way by the same employer.

The class will have a lead plaintiff whose experience with the defendant (the employer) is representative of the defendant’s wrongdoing. That means that if the lead plaintiff is an hourly worker who has been misclassified as a salaried employee, the other members of the class will have all been subjected to the same wage and hour violation.

After the class has been determined and certified and a lead plaintiff chosen (sometimes more than one is chosen), attorneys carry out the process of gathering and sharing evidence and testimony called discovery.

How common are labor class action suits?

According to a survey of Fortune 1000 companies released last year, the most common class action lawsuits those employers face are labor and employment class actions, with wage and hour matters leading the way.

Of the more than 400 companies surveyed, more than a quarter reported involvement in the past year in an employment class action lawsuit.

Class action lawsuits can and do work. Last year, security guards reached a $130 million settlement in a class action lawsuit that claimed Wackenhut Corp. violated California’s work break law.

There was also a $26 million settlement in a class action involving McDonald’s Restaurants of California, Inc., in which thousands of workers alleged they hadn’t received proper pay for the hours they worked.

Resolving a class action lawsuit

Many lawsuits are settled during discovery in pre-trial negotiations, though of course, some can only be resolved in a courtroom. Some class action lawsuits are resolved during the trial, before the case has gone to the jury, while still others go all the way through the entire legal process and are decided by the court.

Compensation arrived at by settlement or a court decision is divided among the members of the class.

Class action lawsuits can be complex and sometimes slow-moving, but in certain situations, they can deliver the most impactful results.