6 Key Trends in Workplace Litigation for 2017

January 13, 2017

The environment for employment litigation has more than ever been shaped by Supreme Court judges and settlements for wage and hour class actions rose in 2016 while those for other employment-related claims fell, according to a report on workplace class action litigation.

The Workplace Class Action Litigation Report by Seyfarth Shaw analyzed 1,331 class action rulings on a circuit-by-circuit and state-by-state basis to capture those themes and others from 2016 and to identify emerging litigation trends facing U.S. companies in 2017.

“The U.S. Supreme Court decided several cases in 2016 that favored workers bringing class actions, which in turn portend significant challenges for employers facing these exposures in 2017,” said Seyfarth’s Gerald L. Maatman Jr., co-chair of the firm’s Class Action Defense Group and author of the report. “While settlements were down for employment discrimination and ERISA class actions and government enforcement litigation, settlement numbers were up for wage and hour class actions and collective actions.”

“With the change-over from a Democratic White House to a Republican one and the second most filings of wage and hour litigation over the past decade, 2017 is sure to present twists and turns for employers in dealing with these types of litigation issues.”

The report idetifies six key trends in workplace litigation:

  1. Class action dynamics increasingly have been shaped and influenced by recent rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Over the past several years, the Supreme Court has accepted more cases for review – and issued more rulings – than ever before that have impacted the prosecution and defense of class actions and government enforcement litigation. Plaintiffs’ lawyers scored several significant victories in 2016 that will make class actions easier to prosecute and result in more certification orders.
  2. The monetary value of the top employment-related class action settlements declined significantly in 2016 after they reached all-time highs in 2014 and 2015. However, wage and hour settlements increased significantly.
  3. Federal and state courts issued more favorable class certification rulings for the plaintiffs’ bar in 2016 than in past years. However, employers did better in decertification motions than in past years.
  4. Overall complex employment-related litigation filings were flat in 2016 after several years of increased filings. For the first time in over a decade, wage and hour filings declined.
  5. Wage and hour certification decisions in 2016 increased geometrically as compared to last year. This manifests the focus of the plaintiffs’ bar in wage and hour compliance issues.
  6. Government enforcement lawsuits brought by the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continued the aggressive litigation programs of both agencies, but by sheer numbers of cases, their enforcement activities were arguably limited in their effectiveness, at least when measured by lawsuit filings and recoveries compared to previous years.

This is the 13th edition of Seyfarth Shaw ‘s report.

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