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Workers Finally Experiencing Sufficient Legal Protections? Lawsuits Filed in Record Numbers This Year Under FLSA

According to a new survey by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, more lawsuits were filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act by March of this year (7,064) than were filed in the year 2011 (7,006). The news shows that workers are both standing up for their rights in record numbers and that political and legislative inhibitions to unfair labor practices are becoming more effective.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes minimum wages, regulates overtime pay, refines record keeping and monitors youth employment standards. Perhaps because of the economic downturn — or because workers are now more free to demand fair treatment — the number is a large spike from just a decade ago when 2,035 lawsuits were filed under the FLSA for an entire year.

Many of the lawsuits pertained to employee misclassification, an epidemic that state governments have been hampered by in recent years. Richard Alfred is the chair of Seyfarth’s wage and hour litigation practice:

The release of the 2012 data reinforces the fact that these FLSA claims are still gaining momentum,” said Alfred, who attributes the momentum to four major factors:

Weakness of the economy, resulting in layoffs
Outdated FLSA and state laws which do not address changes in technology in the 21st century workplace
Lack of clarity in existing law, making it difficult to classify who is and is not exempt from overtime pay
Potential for lucrative recovery by plaintiffs and their attorneys

An economic environment hellbent on austerity and devoid of compassion is a major factor in the record number of lawsuits. The survey points to the Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T v. Concepcion, which helped make it illegal for contracts to disallow the filing of class action lawsuits:

“These cases are typically filed as class actions, spanning multiple years, with potentially a material amount of damages to the enterprise — and the company has to defend,” says Christopher M. Adishian, founder of California-based Adishian Law Group, which represents employees in FLSA and other types of claims.

“For workers who were legitimately wronged, it is good news because attorneys are bringing their cases on a contingency basis and but for that, they would really have no way to enforce the law.”

No matter the specifics or theories, it is a positive development to see the legal system use new ways to ensure that Americans are being treated and paid fairly for their hard work.


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