The government is turning up the heat on employment discrimination cases, with open investigations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Office expanding its investigations of discrimination claims from about 50 in 2006 to almost 600 in 2011.
Our Boston employment lawyers understand that last year, as a result of EEOC’s efforts, about 40 different companies have paid some $60 million in either settlements or court judgments as a result of workplace discrimination cases.
Of course, discrimination of all forms – race, gender, religious – is nothing new to the U.S. workforce. However, it’s a matter of the government cracking down, as well as the fall-out from a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that made it tougher for individuals to earn class action status in order to sue big companies for widespread or systematic acts of bias.
That decision, Dukes v. Walmart, U.S. Supreme Court, involved about 1.6 million female workers of Walmart, who had sought class action status for what they classified as systematic violations of labor law with regard to the female gender. However, in a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court justices decided that the women could not proceed because of their variability of their circumstances.
Employment law attorneys representing those who have been discriminated against know this makes it tough to be granted class action status. The EEOC as a government entity, though, is not subject to those same rules as individuals in establishing a class status, which is why it has been increasing the number of multi-plaintiff actions against large corporations.
While there can be benefits to this, there is an obvious downside as well, particularly if you as an individual have a strong case for discrimination. In a class action lawsuit, your case may only be as strong as the weakest case in the qualifying class. Additionally, any settlement or judgment won against the company will be much smaller for each individual in a class action case, compared to those individuals who choose to fight their own case on its own merits.
For example, an EEOC case last year against technology firm 3M resulted in a $3 million settlement after alleging that the company had unfairly disciplined or laid off workers over 45 years-old. This sounds like a significant settlement, until you consider that it was then divided among the hundreds of workers who had been affected.
Same thing with Pepsi Beverages Co., which paid just over $3 million to settle allegations that it screened out potential black employees using background checks. This sounds like a decent amount, until you figure that it had to be divided among 300 job applicants, minus legal fees.
This is where having an independent attorney can be valuable to your discrimination case; you aren’t sharing the ultimate settlement with anyone else.
Additionally, a number of recent cases brought by the EEOC have received rebuke from federal judges who indicated the commission had no basis on which to bring a class action suit in the first place – in one case ordering the EEOC to pay more than $2.5 million to an Ohio company after the commission reportedly failed to prove discrimination against women.
Private attorneys tend to be more discerning in the cases they accept, so you have an idea earlier on what your prospects are for success.
The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call 617-489-0817 or contact us online.
Government turns heat on employers over job bias, By Sam Hananel, The Associated Press