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Photo of a lawyer explaining recent trends in class action litigation to his client

Workplace class actions have long been a staple of the legal industry, however, the coronavirus pandemic led to a massive increase in filings for 2020. From social distancing practices to sanitization procedures, companies scrambled to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Unfortunately, not all efforts were successful. In the following article, we’re going to share some of the major trends we’ve seen in class action lawsuits:

Increased Arbitration Motions

Companies facing class-action lawsuits have increasingly chosen to compel arbitration. While there are a number of factors that influenced this trend, it is ultimately due to the transformative decision of Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis. In their decision, the Supreme Court stated that lower courts must enforce arbitration agreements, even when they contain class action waivers and terms for individual proceedings.

The Epic Systems decision had a butterfly effect on class actions across the country. Employers were emboldened by the pro-business ruling and opted to launch even more front-end attacks on collective action. By relying on mandatory workplace arbitration agreements, companies seek to cut off future class actions at the knees.

Addressing Coronavirus-related Liability

As the country struggled to adapt to the pandemic, employers faced major workplace liability concerns. Under the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA), employers must provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” By the end of 2020, over one thousand class action lawsuits were filed alleging businesses had failed to comply with OSHA guidelines.

Businesses of all sizes and across a variety of industries were targeted by class actions. Most frequently, the resulting class-action lawsuits alleged failure to provide a safe working environment, discrimination based on disability, or denial of valid leave claims.

Rising Settlement Amounts

In 2020, the aggregate settlement amount for workplace class action lawsuits increased. While the high volume of new claims might suggest that companies would reduce settlement awards, reality defied expectations. In fact, plaintiffs’ lawyers and government enforcement actions monetized their claims at a higher rate than the previous two years.

Across all workplace class actions, settlement numbers in 2020 totaled $1.58 billion. Recent reports indicate a dramatic difference in award value among different types of actions. For example, the amount of money spent on the top ten employment discrimination settlements had nearly quadrupled when compared to the previous year.

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