Report Sees a Busy 2011 for Workplace Lawsuits

January 6, 2011 ( – 2010 was an extraordinarily busy and important year when it came to employment-related class action lawsuits and 2011 could be even more so, a new study asserts.

A news release about the 2011 edition of Seyfarth Shaw’s Workplace Class Action Litigation Report said the value of employment discrimination class action settlements increased four-fold in 2010 over 2009. The top ten settlements of wage & hour, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and governmental enforcement class actions increased to $1.16 billion, the highest amount ever

Authored and edited by Seyfarth Shaw partner Gerald L Maalman, Jr., rhe new report explains that while securities, shareholder and commercial class actions remained stable in 2010, workplace class actions – especially those brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act – spiked considerably.

2011 could see a number of particularly important rulings in the area from the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the news release. According to the report, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in March in the Title VII gender discrimination case Dukes v. Wal-Mart, covering more than 1.5 million class members. Among the issues the Supreme Court will decide is the extent of commonality that must hold among plaintiffs’ grievances for a class to be certified.

In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, argued in November of 2010, the Supreme Court must resolve whether service agreements favoring non-classwide arbitration abrogate consumers’ right to bring a class arbitration.

“The past several years have placed several important issues governing class action law on the table and 2011 looks like the year many of these questions will be answered by the Supreme Court,” said Maatman, in the news release. He noted that the Supreme Court’s rulings could have ”profound” effects on the way class actions are brought against companies, including wage & hour class actions and collective actions. 

FLSA Suit Increases

According to the study, the economic downturn and resulting layoffs sparked a major jump in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective actions for unpaid overtime wages. Wage & hour cases remain the most common form of workplace class action.

Increased budgets and renewed hiring at the Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggest that employers should also prepare themselves for more investigations and lawsuits in the coming year – a trend at the federal level that state labor departments have already begun to follow. The latest EEOC annual report asserts that its goal is to shift emphasis from smaller suits on behalf of individuals to systemic “pattern or practice” lawsuits encompassing much larger groups of workers, the law firm’s stuy pointed out.

The lawsuit study examines over 848 decisions rendered in 2010 against employers in state and federal courts, including private plaintiff and government enforcement actions. The study is here.