January 08, 2019

A lot has changed since businessman and former media personality Donald Trump became president of the U.S., including regulatory rollbacks meant to clear the way for businesses to operate without more government interference — or oversight, depending on your place on the political spectrum.

There’s one area where there’s been no apparent rollback: Lawsuits against employers accused of breaking workplace harassment laws and wage and hour rules. That’s according to a global law firm’s new report on class action cases.

“Filings and settlements of government enforcement litigation in 2018 did not reflect a head-snapping pivot from the ideological pro-worker outlook of the Obama administration to a pro-business, less regulation/litigation viewpoint of the Trump administration,” said Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw’s “2019 Workplace Class Action Report.”

The report found:

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed 199 lawsuits against employers, more than double the 86 actions filed in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration. Still, the value of the top 10 settlements resulting from EEOC and Department of Labor enforcement actions dropped to $126.7 million in 2018 from $485.25 million in 2017.
  • Settlement amounts in class actions brought by private lawyers against employers also dropped dramatically, plunging to $1.32 billion last year from $1.75 billion in 2016. This happened despite the fact that more judges granted bids, formally letting large groups of workers sue over wages or retirement plan issues.

This “aggressive agenda” could be linked to factors, including the delay in bringing on Trump appointees and the number of cases in the pipeline, Tuesday’s report said. Still, as more Trump appointees come into office, the report said agencies could “continue to tilt away from the pro-employee/anti-big business mind-set of the previous administration.”

. . .

Joseph Sellers, a partner at Cohen Milstein, a New York-based law firm with offices across the country representing workers and consumers, said, “We have definitely seen an increase in interest in challenging workplace harassment, whether that leads to actual litigation or not remains somewhat unsettled,” he said.

He credited women who have come forward to tell their stories. Still, he added, there are “significant procedural deterrents in place that may discourage a widespread initiation of litigation.” One obstacle being the very intrusive discovery process where lawyers pry into an accuser’s private life to assess emotional damages coming from the harassment.

The full article can be accessed here.