Class Action and Collective Action Lawsuits
In certain employment situations, the employer’s policies and practices can adversely affect a large group of individuals. For example, an employer can systematically discriminate against a certain class of individuals, or withhold pay from groups of employees. In these cases, employees may bring a lawsuit as a large group to attempt to remedy their damages together. The majority of these group lawsuits are styled as “class actions,” but for employees seeking damages for unpaid overtime or minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act, that law provides for a separate, “collective action” procedure.
Class action and collective action lawsuit have many advantages over filing alone. These lawsuits work to increase the efficiency of the legal process and lower legal costs for all parties by grouping the plaintiffs together. Also, class and collective action suits can speed up the legal process by cutting down on repetition and redundancy in the process.
Another benefit to employees acting together is that while each individual may have a relatively small claim against their employer that would not make economic sense to pursue by itself, collectively the group of employees who each have a small claim might together have a significant claim against the employer. This ensures that if a defendant has wronged a large group of individuals, the defendant will be held responsible and made to pay damages to all plaintiffs.
Both class and collective action lawsuits provide for an opportunity to expand the lawsuit to include additional individuals who are similarly situated to the initial plaintiffs. Thus, a lawsuit brought by a handful of individuals might expand to include hundreds of individuals who perform the same job for the same employer.
Damages from a class action lawsuit are generally split into punitive and compensatory damages. Compensatory damages make up for the harm alleged in the case, such as payment for injury, lost wages or other situations where the company was liable for a particular harm and should pay. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant to punish the company for the improper behavior, and to discourage future illegal behavior.
If you have a situation where you and your fellow co-workers have been denied overtime, back pay, or other discriminatory employment practices, contact us today to evaluate your legal options and pursue your case.