Workers Standing Up for Their Rights in Record Numbers
Record numbers of workers are standing up for their rights when it comes to being treated fairly on the job. Employees filed 7,064 lawsuits under the Fair Labor Standards Act as of March 2012, according to a survey released over the summer by Seyfarth Shaw, a law firm that represents employers.
FLSA cases totaled 7,006 for the entire year of 2011, – about the same as only the first three months of 2012, according to the survey. Ten years ago, 2,035 suits were filed under the federal law, which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards for employees in both the private and public sectors.
The numbers gradually rose over the decade, with a spike in 2007, the year a major recession began in earnest in the United States.
Claims Cover Overtime, Minimum Wage, and More
Most of the lawsuits filed under the FLSA include claims for misclassification of employees, alleged uncompensated work performed off the clock and miscalculation of overtime pay for non-exempt workers, according to Richard Alfred, chair of Seyfarth’s wage and hour litigation practice, who is quoted in the firm’s press release about the survey.
“The release of the 2012 data reinforces the fact that these FLSA claims are still gaining momentum,” said Alfred, who attributes the momentum to four major factors:
- Weakness of the economy, resulting in layoffs
- Outdated FLSA and state laws which do not address changes in technology in the 21st century workplace
- Lack of clarity in existing law, making it difficult to classify who is and is not exempt from overtime pay
- Potential for lucrative recovery by plaintiffs and their attorneys
Lawyers who represent plaintiffs in FLSA cases agree that a new awareness of potential remedies for unfair treatment could account for the increase, as well as financial pressures and outdated human resources technology systems.
Class Actions Dinged by Supremes, Could Affect Trend
“These cases are typically filed as class actions, spanning multiple years, with potentially a material amount of damages to the enterprise — and the company has to defend,” says Christopher M. Adishian, founder of California-based Adishian Law Group, which represents employees in FLSA and other types of claims.
“For workers who were legitimately wronged, it is good news because attorneys are bringing their cases on a contingency basis and but for that, they would really have no way to enforce the law.”
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Adishian’s point about the fact that these cases are often filed as class actions is important: In April 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court decided AT&T v. Concepcion, a case that could have serious ramifications on employees’ ability to band together and file class actions.
In its decision, the Court stated that the Federal Arbitration Act trumps state laws that make it illegal for contracts to forbid the filing of class action lawsuits, requiring that disputes be settled through arbitration instead. “While the Concepcion ruling was in the context of a consumer class action, many labor attorneys see it as a potential basis for blocking employee-based class actions,” Adishian explains.