The value of the 10 leading wage and hour class action settlements in 2019 was $449.1 million, up about 77% from $253 million in 2018, a law firm said Jan. 10.
The settlement values for all employment-related class action categories totaled $1.34 billion in 2019, compared with $1.32 billion in 2018, Seyfarth Shaw said in its 16th annual report, which analyzed 1,467 class action rulings on a circuit-by-circuit and state-by-state basis. By comparison, settlements totaled a record-high $2.72 billion in 2017, $1.75 billion in 2016, $2.48 billion in 2015, and $1.85 billion in 2014, the Chicago law firm said in a summary of its “Workplace Class Action Litigation Report.”
The top 10 settlements in terms of value involved minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks, worker status, employment benefits, and pre-shift duties.
The number of wage and hour lawsuits filed in federal courts fell for the fourth consecutive year, with filings in 2019 at the lowest level in the past decade, the report said. Of the 271 wage and hour certification decisions, plaintiffs won 199 or 245 conditional rulings and lost 15 of 26 decertification rulings. In 2018, there were 273 wage and hour certification decisions, with employees winning 196 of 248 conditional certification rulings and losing 13 of 25 decertification rulings.
“The cases decided in 2019 foreshadow the direction of class action litigation in the coming year,” said the report’s author, Gerald L. Maatman Jr., co-chairman of Seyfarth Shaw’s class action litigation practice group. “One certain conclusion is that employment law class action and collective action litigation is becoming ever more sophisticated and will continue to be a source of significant financial exposure to employers well into the future.”
The Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (138 S. Ct. 1612) strongly influenced workplace class actions, the report said. Employers may enforce arbitration agreements signed by workers, even if they prohibit class-action claims, the high court said. The report called the ruling “transformative” and said it was one of the most important workplace class action rulings in the past two decades.
“It is already having a profound impact on the prosecution and defense of workplace class action litigation, and in the long run, Epic Systems may well shift class action litigation dynamics in critical ways,” the report said.
The 2019 lawsuits under the Fair Labor Standards Act totaled 6,780, compared with 7,494 in 2018. Although the filing of FLSA class action lawsuits have been falling since 2016, the number of cases filed outpaced other types of employment-related filings, the report said.
“The fact of the third annual decrease in FLSA lawsuit filings in 17 years is noteworthy in and of itself,” the report said. “Most likely, it reflects that Epic Systems has led the plaintiffs’ bar to forego filing various lawsuits and proceeding directly to arbitration.”
The Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes (564 U.S. 338) also had an effect on class action litigation, the report said. A proposed class of women claimed that the retail company violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by discriminating against them in pay and promotions nationwide. In denying certification to the class, the high court said that the employees did not present a common issue of law or fact as required for class certification under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
“The cases decided in 2019 foreshadow the direction of class action litigation in the coming year,” Maatman said. “One certain conclusion is that employment law class action and collective action litigation is becoming ever more sophisticated and will continue to be a source of significant financial exposure to employers well into the future.”