Employment lawsuits have been on the rise for the last several years, with complaints ranging from sexual harassment to wage-and-hour disputes. Some of these cases have involved massive settlement agreements. It’s likely this trend will continue, though the success could be curbed if the new U.S. Supreme Court justice swings the court toward decisions that tend to favor arbitration agreements and the prohibition of class action employment lawsuits.
As The Associated Press recently reported, the SCOTUS recently accepted review of three cases that center on the viability of arbitration agreements in workplace disputes. Such agreements require workers to use a private arbitrator to resolve grievances, rather than avail themselves of the courts.
The question is whether this deprives workers of due process. Private arbitrators tend to come down on the side of the business, and even those cases decided in favor of the worker tend to result in modest awards in comparison to what they might receive if they had prevailed in court. Plus, arbitrators don’t have to follow the law and proceedings aren’t public, which can strip the employer of any real incentive to change the underlying offensive action in the future.
Orange County employment lawyers know such agreements have become increasingly common in workplaces where employers are seeking to avoid costly court battles.
Meanwhile, class action litigation is an important tool for workers to fight violations that might individually not be worth the pursuit (as the sums garnered would likely be too small), but taken as a whole, can effect real change. For example, if a single flight attendant sues for a series of overtime violation in which the amount of pay they were denied amounts to several hundred dollars, it’s going to be tough to find an attorney willing to take the case for that amount. However, if there are 100 workers with similar claims alleging the same kind of violation, then it can be worthwhile to file – and result in holding the employer accountable and effecting real change.
As we have seen in the past year, wage-and-hour lawsuits -particularly class actions – can be an effective means to deter unfair practices. The top 10 wage-and-hour class action lawsuit settlement agreements last year totaled $696 million.That’s compared to $467 million the year before and $215 million the year before that.
Part of the issue, business analysts believe, is that it’s become more economically savvy to flout the law and then pay the consequences later, if and when they come. Many of the people who file class action litigation are those who are in the lowest economic tier of society. If you are a large employer and you’re taking 25 cents a day from each worker, that may not sound like much. However, by the end of the year, it could be substantial.
Another reason we’re likely seeing a surge has to do with technology. Wage and hour litigation rose smartphones began to proliferate, and that’s likely not a coincidence. When employees are always available and in-touch, the lines of when the workday begins and ends are blurred.
And finally, there is more awareness. A major initiative of the Obama White House administration was to increase the number of workers who are eligible to get overtime by increasing the salary threshold. That provision is tied up in court right now, but it has made people look more closely at their paychecks.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Workplace lawsuits could rise under Trump, but Supreme Court still a wild card, Jan. 20, 2017, By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, The Chicago Tribune
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