Does anyone else remember the mother from "The Waterboy"? Anything she disliked or was unfamiliar with was "the devil". Girls are the devil. Football is the devil. Ben Franklin was the devil. For many people, class action lawsuits and the lawyers that file them are "the devil."
It's easy to feel that way. Most of us have seen the commercials in the middle of the night for vaginal mesh lawsuits or asbestos. Others have gotten a Notification of a Proposed Settlement, where the aggrieved customers are stuck with $5 in gift certificates while the attorneys make millions in fees. And abuses do happen.
Not all class actions (and attorneys) are the devil, however. Many, including those filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, simply redeem the rights of many who would otherwise be left without a remedy.
Consider a case where an employer is engaging in wage and hour violations. The boss hasn't paid overtime to its employees for years. Some of the employees may have massive claims for years of unpaid wages and penalties. Others, like the seasonal employee, might only have a few hundred dollars in damages.
Without class action lawsuits, those smaller cases would never be heard. Lawsuits are expensive. Lawyers are expensive. Plus, even if all of those individual cases were brought, the court system would collapse. Class actions allow a representative to bring a claim on behalf of all aggrieved parties. Ideally, this means every person who was injured will receive their fair share, minus a reasonable allowance for the attorney's time and expenses.
The EEOC has recently embraced class-actions to a larger extent than ever before. Instead of pressing individual claims, they are now redeeming the rights of many in a more efficient manner. For example, they are currently asking the public for information on alleged gender discrimination by Mavis Discount Tires and Cole Muffler. Mavis allegedly did not hire women for management, mechanics, and other positions. In another case, Texas Roadhouse allegedly did not hire anyone over the age of forty.
In cases like these, the individuals might not even be aware of the claim. Or, they might not be able to prove it. When a single woman is not promoted to management, it might be because of her gender. Or it could be that she is an a nasty person to work with. When little to no women are promoted throughout a nationwide company, that pattern indicates discrimination more strongly than an individual accusation.
As Voltaire (and Spiderman's Uncle Ben) once said, "With great power, comes great responsibility." While the class action system may occasionally be prone to abuse, and such abuses are magnified by the large stakes of a class action lawsuit, the tool itself is valuable in allowing the rights of many to be vindicated, while still maintaining a functioning legal system.
In other words, hate the players, not the game.
- Consult a Chicago Employment Law Attorney (FindLaw)
- What Does the EEOC Have to Do Before it Can Fight Discrimination? (FindLaw's Chicago Employment Law Blog)
- EEOC: Top Five Discrimination Claims in Illinois (FindLaw's Chicago Employment Law Blog)
- How Businesses Should Respond to a Class Action(FindLaw's Free Enterprise Blog)