By Brendan O'Brien
Jan 14 (Reuters) - While the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark
Wal-Mart ruling caused a contraction in private workplace class
action litigation last year, employers should expect a
resurgence in 2013, as plaintiffs' lawyers "reboot" their legal
That was one of the conclusions of an annual report on
workplace class action litigation released on Monday by the law
firm Seyfarth Shaw, which represents employers in labor cases.
Plaintiffs' lawyers will focus on smaller cases as opposed
to nationwide mega-class cases, the report said. In terms of
certification, they will pursue hybrid class theories seeking
both injunctive relief and monetary relief, as well as a range
of other theories, it said.
In June 2011, the Supreme Court threw out a class action
case against Wal-Mart Inc involving more than 1 million female
employees nationwide. The ruling made it more difficult for
plaintiffs to meet a requirement that members of a class have
circumstances in common.
As a result, the number and value of private workplace class
action settlements have fallen significantly. Last year, the top
10 settlements had a combined value of just $45 million, down
from $346 million in 2011, the report said.
"If a case was worth a dollar before the Wal-Mart decision,
it's probably worth a quarter today," said Gerald Maatman, the
report's general editor.
While private class actions declined, government enforcement
litigation by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission
reached "white hot" levels in 2012, an inevitable byproduct of
high unemployment rates, the report said.
Employers can expect a "significant jump" in the coming year
as EEOC charges brought in 2011 and 2012, which hit record
levels, become ripe for initiation of lawsuits in 2013.
"In 2013, you are going to see blockbuster settlements and
you are going to see blockbuster lawsuits being brought by the
EEOC," Maatman said.
The report also predicted that there was no end in sight for
a "deluge" of wage-and-hour filings under the Fair Labor
The 870-page report summarizes 1,059 workplace class action
rulings in 2012. The report found differences among judges
around the country in their willingness to create exemptions to
the Wal-Mart ruling. It said courts in San Francisco and the
Southern District of New York, for example, have become
"litigation magnets," with judges more willing to create
exemptions than in other parts of the country, where there is a
broader interpretation of the Wal-Mart ruling.
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