A class action lawsuit, also known as a collective action lawsuit, is a case brought against an entity on behalf of many individuals, all of whom have been subject to the same illegal practice by the defendant.
In employment cases, this usually occurs when an employer makes unreasonable or illegal requests of a large number or all employees, such as working unpaid overtime or subjecting them to unsafe working conditions. This differs from a typical lawsuit, where one entity brings legal action against another, such as if a single worker sued his or her employer.
Strength in numbers
There are several reasons why class action lawsuits can be preferable to individual suits. Compiling multiple suits into one suit expedites the legal process and makes it easier for a case to move through the court system. If 20 workers were affected by an employer’s alleged illegal practice, it is much simpler and more efficient for the courts to hear one case rather than 20. This increases the chance that the case will be handled in a reasonable amount of time.
If the individual damages against each person is relatively small – such as a few hundred dollars’ worth of unpaid overtime – it may not be worthwhile for each member of the affected party to invest the time and money required to pursue individual action, as such expenses would nullify any awarded damages.
Combining several smaller suits into one class action suit also helps reduce the expenses for individual members of the suit and make it easier to find legal representation.
Should you go class action?
While class action lawsuits have their advantages, there are also reasons not to pursue them. By choosing to be part of a group rather than suing as an individual, plaintiffs relinquish control over the case. Instead, the chosen representative of the plaintiffs, along with the attorney representing them, decide how to proceed and when to settle – which may not be to the liking of all members of the class.
Also, because everyone’s case is slightly different, even in a class-action lawsuit, the rewards may be unsatisfying for individual plaintiffs who were more seriously affected. For instance, if a company is being sued for unsafe working conditions, and two workers suffered major medical problems, those workers may be better served by bringing their cases against their employer individually to maximize their compensation. Otherwise, they run the risk of receiving a smaller payout based on the lesser medical problems encountered by the majority of workers represented in the suit.
Making the decision to pursue a class action lawsuit can be tricky, and it’s not right in all cases, even when a large number of people are affected by a single employer. Consult one of the Pennsylvania employment attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson to determine whether class action or individual action is right for you.