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What Is an Employment Class Action?

Employment class action lawsuits involve a group of employees whose rights have been violated by an employer in a similar way. The class action can begin with one employee whose rights were violated under federal employment law, state law, or both.

Following the old saying of "strength in numbers," employment class actions are often used when the number of people affected by an employer's conduct is high.

Why Do Employees Bring Class Actions?

If an employee's injuries from an employer's violation are relatively minor, then filing an individual lawsuit may be impractical because litigation can cost more than the damages are worth.

But when a group of employees sue together, the value of the employees' claims are thrown into the same pot and the claims add up. This makes the lawsuit more powerful for employees.

Since they share attorneys, evidence, witnesses and other aspects of litigation, it's also more cost-effective for the individual class members.

When Can Employees Bring Class Actions?

Both federal and state law regulate employment practices in the workplace, so any violation under those laws could potentially be turned into a class action lawsuit.

Disputes that can be litigated in a class action lawsuit include:

  • Employment discrimination,
  • Unlawful termination (including mass layoffs),
  • Violation of state or federal overtime laws,
  • Wage and hour issues,
  • Harassment in the workplace, and
  • Employee misclassification.

When a class action is permitted, the group files the lawsuit with a representative plaintiff -- called a "named plaintiff" or "lead plaintiff" -- at the front of the pack. It's very important that the class members have common interests and injuries that can be resolved for the entire class.

Collective Action

Collective action lawsuits can be brought when an employee's rights are violated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), for disputes including:

  • Overtime violations,
  • Minimum wage violations,
  • Misclassification as exempt or as independent contractors, and
  • Wage and hour violations.

Like a class action, to get a collective action rolling, an individual brings the lawsuit on behalf of the group of employees who suffered the same kind of violation.

But there is one major difference between a class action and a collective action. In a collective action lawsuit, each member of the class has to opt-in to the lawsuit to get the benefits of a successful case. In a class action, the group of employees automatically receive any possible benefits from the suit.

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