In the last several years, the U.S. Supreme Court made it tougher for individuals to bring forth successful discrimination lawsuits – particularly class action cases. One of the most recent examples is that of Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, decided in 2011.
However, workers haven’t stopped filing employment lawsuits in New York. What it appears they are doing is shifting gears. Rather than focusing on things like racial discrimination, workers have been filing a larger number of wage-and-hour lawsuits. Most commonly, they allege employers misclassify workers, allowing them to skirt overtime pay and other benefits.
According to the annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, there were approximately 10 percent more wage-and-hour lawsuits filed last years as compared to what was filed in 2012. This year, it appears we might be on track to see even more wage-and-hour claims.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, despite experiencing sequestration budget cuts that froze hiring and furloughed employees still brought in about $375 million in employment lawsuits, which is a record for the agency.
Over the last two decades, wage and hour litigation has spiked by more than 430 percent, according to data culled from the Federal Judicial Center. The New York Law Journal reported last spring that the largest increase in wage-and-hour lawsuits in New York were seen in the Eastern District, where a 916 percent increase has been reported since 2003.
Workers landed a substantial victory late last year when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that employers can’t challenge and court’s can’t review the EEOC’s informal pre-litigation efforts to bring employers into compliance with federal-level anti-discrimination laws. Per the ruling in EEOC v. Mach Mining, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gives the EEOC total discretion to engage in these conciliation efforts. Ultimately, this means EEOC lawsuits can’t struck down or dismissed based on the argument that the commission failed to adequately conciliate the claim before a lawsuit was filed.
Many other workers find private attorneys are better-suited to handle their cases.
In New York, employees should educate themselves on their rights. Minimum wage recently increased to $8 hourly as of Dec. 31, 2013. It will go up to $8.75 at the end of this year.
Overtime pay at time-and-a-half should be awarded to all non-exempt workers who put in more than 40 hours in a given payroll week. For live-in workers, overtime kicks in at 44 hours.
Workers also must be afforded an uninterrupted half-hour lunch break anytime they work a shift of more than six hours starting prior to 11 a.m. and continuing until 2 p.m.
Employees who are unsure about whether their rights have been violated can read more about New York Labor Standards at the Department of Labor’s Frequently Asked Questions on Wage and Hour laws. If it is believed a violation has occurred, an experienced employment law attorney can help workers determine the next step.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.
Law 2014: Within Employment Discrimination, It’s a Wage-and-Hour World, Dec. 30, 2013, By Ashby Jones, Wall Street Journal
More Blog Entries:
New York Wage and Hour, Employment Issues, to Receive SCOTUS Review, Oct. 10, 2013, New York City Wage and Hour Lawyer Blog