Worker class-action lawsuits on the rise?

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Employers may face “significant challenges” in 2017 related to workers bringing class-action lawsuits against them.

That's according to Seyfarth Shaw LLP, which released its 13th annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report in mid-January. The research dug into more than 1,300 class-action rulings to identify emerging trends in litigation that employers are likely to face in the coming year.

The report showed that the dynamics of class action lawsuits have been influenced more and more by recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including several victories last year that will make class action suits easier to prosecute.

The number of wage- and hour-related class action filings dropped for the first time in more than a decade, but the monetary value of the settlements in those cases “increased significantly,” the report showed. 

Settlement values for cases involving employment discrimination and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 decreased over the course of 2016, according to the report.

Seyfarth's litigation report also found that government enforcement lawsuits, such as those brought by the Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, furthered the “aggressive litigation programs” of the agencies. But both agencies were ultimately limited by the sheer volume of cases handled, the report's authors said.

Changes in litigation may also occur due to the shift to a Republican White House.

“The U.S. Supreme Court decided several cases in 2016 that favored workers bringing class actions, which in turn portend significant challenges for employers facing these exposures in 2017,” said Gerald L. Maatman Jr., co-chairman of Seyfarth's Class Action Defense Group and author of the report.