ERISA Suits Led Workplace Class Actions in 2008

January 13, 2009 ( - The fifth Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report by Seyfarth Shaw LLP found that more than any other area of workplace litigation, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) class actions took center stage in 2008 as case filings surged and settlements led all other types of class actions.

The top ten ERISA class action settlements increased exponentially in 2008 to $17.7 billion from $1.818 billion in 2007, according to a press release on the 665-page report. Seyfarth Shaw said plaintiffs’ lawyers increasingly are pursuing two broad categories of cases, including “stock drop” suits in which the ERISA plan participants complain of the availability of employer stock as an investment option, and “plan administration” suits in which participants challenge excessive advisory fees and other mechanics of how the plan is run.

According to the law firm, the financial meltdown of the economy during 2008 fueled more class action litigation as the plaintiffs’ bar increased the pace of ERISA class action filings seeking recovery for 401(k) losses, and an increase in layoffs led displaced workers to file more age discrimination and Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification lawsuits.

In addition, collective actions pursued in federal court under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) outnumbered all other types of private class actions in employment-related cases.

The most significant growth in wage and hour litigation centered at the state court level, especially in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas, the press release said.

In its Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, Seyfarth Shaw LLPnoted that plaintiffs' lawyers have continued to push the envelope in crafting damages theories to expand the size of classes and the scope of recoveries.

Plaintiffs' lawyers secured hefty settlements in 2008 for employment discrimination, wage and hour, and ERISA class actions, the law firm said. The top ten settlements totaled over $18.184 billion. Settlement totals decreased for the top ten employment discrimination and wage and hour class action settlements as compared to 2007, but increased for the top ten ERISA class action settlements.

For employment discrimination class actions, the monetary value of the top ten private plaintiff settlements entered into or paid in 2008 totaled $118.36 million, compared to $202.1 million for the top ten settlements in 2007. For wage and hour class actions, the monetary value of the top ten private settlements entered into or paid in 2008 totaled $252.7 million, compared to $319.3 million in 2007.

Lawsuits examined in the report were filed in federal courts under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the ERISA and a host of other federal statutes applicable to workplace issues.

The report also analyzes class action and collective action rulings involving claims brought against employers in all fifty state court systems, including decisions pertaining to employment laws, wage and hour laws, and breach of employment contract actions; and discusses important federal and state court rulings in non-workplace cases which are significant in their impact on the defense of workplace class action litigation.

To request a copy of the report on CD-ROM, visit or email .