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Workplace-Related Class-Action Lawsuits Still Hinge on Wal-Mart Case: Report

January 7, 2014
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Law firm Seyfarth Shaw released its annual “Workplace Class Action Litigation Report” on Jan. 7, detailing the 1,123 class-action lawsuits faced by corporations in 2013. The report, recognized as the nation’s most complete guide to the state of workplace-related litigation, captures key themes from 2013 and emerging legal trends facing U.S. companies in 2014.

According to the report, the 2011 ruling of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes continued to have a wide-ranging impact on virtually all class actions pending in federal and state courts throughout the country in 2013. In that case, Betty Dukes alleged gender discrimination guided Wal-Mart’s pay and promotion policies and practices. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Wal-Mart. 

Many class-action decisions in 2013 pivoted off the Dukes case, and leverage points in class-action litigation increased or decreased depending on the manner in which judges interpreted and applied the case.

Other emerging trends the report indicated employers should be mindful of in 2014 include:

  • The increasing focus of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on high-stakes, big-impact litigation.
  • The continuing increase in wage-and-hour cases.
  • Implications of the Supreme Court’s first ruling on the Class Action Fairness Act in Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Knowles.
  • Additions to the increasing number of rulings allowing employers to use arbitration agreements to manage class-action risks.

“In the past two years, we have seen a combination of Supreme Court decisions help create a defensive barrier for employers in class-action cases,” said Gerald Maatman, co-chair of Seyfarth’s Class Action Defense group and author of the report, in a written statement. “Enough time has passed, however, that plaintiff lawyers have begun to breach this barrier with new theories and approaches and, combined with increasing and aggressive government-enforcement litigation, employers may once again find themselves facing bet-the-company-type class actions in 2014.”

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.

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