Class Actions: The Importance of Your Collective Voice in the Law


What is a Class Action?

When there are too many plaintiffs to make it practical for each to file an individual claim, or when such a claim is so small as to make no economic sense to be filed individually, a class action is the best option for accomplishing these goals. Generally, one or more “representative plaintiffs” file the suit on behalf of the group. They are tasked with being the face and voice of claimants throughout the litigation, and must participate fully in discovery and depositions. The other potential class members will be contacted only to determine their desire to participate in the action, either to “opt out” or to receive instructions outlining how they may obtain their share of the damages collected by the attorneys. In short, it is your collective voice for smaller grievances, and it is an incredibly important tool.

Why Should I Bother?

Many creative solutions can come out of using a class action to resolve group claims. For example, a large chain of service providers has for years been using the practice of forcing employees to “clock out” at the end of a shift, yet requires that they remain on site and continue working. The company has taken these steps to avoid paying overtime to its employees, without actually letting them go home. This practice is unlawful, and the persons who were not paid for that last 20-30 minutes of work performed daily can sue their employer for the unpaid wages. Or a telecom company can charge many types of unlawful fees and reap billions by doing so. The only way to stop them is to sue for a large amount, and that can only be done in a class action setting. The courts have severely undermined an individual’s right to such justice, finding that individual arbitrations are sufficient to resolve these claims. But that policy requires that each consumer take a $5 claim to court as an individual, spending up to a year in the process to collect their refunds. We know that this process will never happen, and large corporations continue to rake in billions for stockholders while everyday Americans struggle to pay their bills.

I Heard Class Actions Are a Scam by Plaintiff’s Attorneys to Get Rich.

Those of us who work in the legal profession hear the familiar complaints from the general public about Class Actions. Corporate lawyers have done a good job painting us as the perpetrator of some huge fraud. They do not mention that plaintiff’s firms take on these corporate behemoths at great risk. Nor do they point out that pursuing such a case through trial can cost a firm in the millions. Rather, they focus on pointing out that the individual victories can be small, and encourage consumers to view their small rebate check as some sort of sell-out. These threads populate internet message boards everywhere. It is understandable that, to a consumer, a $5 coupon does not seem like much of a reward. Why should anyone bother with so small a return?

The answer is fairly straightforward. Many companies and employers engage in risky behavior because they know they can probably get away with it, and cheating people cuts costs, which increases profits. The only way to stop this misuse of public trust, is to have the behavior declared unlawful in a courtroom. Whether it consists of mis-classifying employees or large-scale consumer fraud, if you are the consumer or employee on the receiving end of this behavior, don’t you want your money back? Also, while many consumer class actions result in small recoveries for individual class members (because their damages are fairly small), other cases often produce substantial individual awards worth thousands of dollars.

Enter the Class Action Lawsuit:

The best, if not only, method available to force a large “misbehaving” organization to comply with existing law in its treatment of the affected consumer or employee is a class action. So, when one of those “tedious” little postcards comes in the mail, it is a good idea to complete it – to “opt in” and be counted. If you are an employee, you are likely to get a pretty decent payout, depending on how long you worked during the relevant period. But even consumers should consider responding in the affirmative to the suit. Even if you never see much money, you have voiced a very important message. That message? Obey existing laws and stop cheating us out of our money.

Corporations Are Winning; We Need to Fight Back:

You can imagine how much big business likes to be hit with Class Action litigation. To that end, many companies are engaging in a “preemptive strike,” by forcing individuals, directly or indirectly, to sign away their rights to participate in a class action. These waivers can be hidden in an employment package or an on-line click-through agreement, and the Supreme Court is holding individuals to them, regardless of whether or not they had any real opportunity to decline to sign. These agreements force those who sign them to arbitrate individually any claims that arise between them and any business to whom they provided such a waiver. This process is much easier on the business and encourages the bad behavior tenfold, because it provides them a golden ticket to avoid prosecution.

Check out this post if you want to learn more about Arbitration Agreements and how they hurt American consumers.

What can you do? Be aware of the language contained in any document you sign, because you may be signing away your rights. You may not always have the option to opt out, but look for it in the small print. The shifting of all our hard-fought rights from citizens to corporations is real, and we must begin to push back. Think about calling your representative every time you are forced to sign away your rights, and ask why they are allowing this to continue. They can write legislation to correct the Supreme Court’s rulings on behalf of corporate greed anytime they want to remedy the situation.

The Takeaway – Class Actions Are Important for American Employees & Consumers

The members of this firm have participated in a myriad of class actions over the years, with an excellent track record on recovery for the affected classes. They are among the first attorneys ever to battle for wages using the class action mechanism.

One of the earliest of those cases, Amaro v. Continental Can, was one in which plaintiffs’ counsel sought unpaid pension benefits for lifelong employees at a manufacturing mill. After weeks of reviewing the mountains of shuffled paperwork provided by attorneys for the defendant, Mr. Lazear discovered the “smoking gun” — a document that allowed us to achieve victory, and to recover stolen pension funds for the workers who had earned them. These awards averaged about $80,000 per class member, which in 1987 was sufficient for most of them to purchase homes and settle into the retirement life they deserved. The day he was able to hand out those checks was one of the most rewarding in his career. Without the class action tool, those workers would have gone to their graves, many of them homeless, just because the company could get away with cheating them.

If you believe you have a class action claim on behalf of yourself and those you work with, give us a call at 510-735-6316

Lazear Mack, LLP
Employment Law Attorneys
436 14th Street, Suite 1117
Oakland, CA


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