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Workplace class-action settlements set mark in 2021

Posted On: Jan. 4, 2022 2:34 PM CST

class action

Contrary to expectations, workplace class-action settlements reached an all-time high last year, says a law firm’s report.

The top 10 settlements in various employment-related class actions categories exceeded $3.26 billion in 2021, compared with $1.58 billion in 2020 and $1.32 billion in 2019, according to the Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report: 2022 Edition issued by Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

The report said many had mistakenly anticipated the pandemic would depress settlements’ size and pace.

Among other trends, wage and hour litigation remained a “sweet spot” for the plaintiffs’ class action bar, according to the report. Of the 298 wage and certification decisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act, for instance, plaintiffs won 226 of 279 conditional certification rulings, or about 81%.

The report said also the change of administration “translated directly to reversals in administrative agendas,” as Biden administration enforcement authorities took steps to eliminate the Trump Administration’s pro-business rules.

The Department of Labor, in particular, withdrew or rescinded Trump rules including joint employer and independent contractor rules promulgated during the Trump Administration, the report said.

The pandemic had a significant impact as well. Workspace class actions brought by states, employee advocates, unions and employer groups “erupted over regulatory actions and employer policies,” it said.

Litigation that challenged agency rulemaking on the basis that it exceeded executive authority to regulate employment conditions had mixed results, with courts granting about 41% of requests for temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions to date, the report said.

Workplace arbitration “continued to gain steam,” the report said also, aided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, which reaffirmed that the Federal Arbitration Act requires court to enforce agreements to arbitrate according to their terms.