During the past five years there has been a steady increase in the number of lawsuits filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to research by Seyfarth Shaw.
Using data confirmed by the Federal Judicial Center, the firm counted 7,064 cases during the 12 months ending on March 12 of this year. Since 2008, there has been a steady increase in the number of cases filed per year.
Richard Alfred, Seyfarth partner and chair of the firm's national wage and hour litigation practice group, attributes the recent spike in cases over the past few years partially to a slumping economy. People who lost their jobs during the economic downturn, Alfred said, explored their legal options.
"Whether or not they had a wrongful termination case, they went to seek legal advice on that subject," Alfred said. He said some plaintiffs lawyers will often steer potential clients away from a wrongful termination suit in favor of a wage and hour suit because the law is often difficult to interpret. He added that these were generally not intentional violations on the part of employers.
From the mid 90's through the early 2000's, wage and hour lawsuits hovered a little less than 2,000 cases per year. Since then the number of cases have increased more than threefold.
Alfred attributes the sharp rise in the number of cases, beginning in 2003, to a few enterprising lawyers who won large settlements and attorney fee awards.
"That led to a realization by other plaintiffs lawyers that the wage and hour laws, because of the way they are written and the changes in the workplace, were relatively easy claims to bring against employers on a class basis," Alfred said.
And he doesn't see the number of wage and hour suits declining any time soon. He said that it would ultimately rely on lawmakers to update the 74-year-old law.
"I see a continuing increase in these claims brought in federal court and in state courts," Alfred said. "I think that ultimately Congress and state legislatures need to change the laws so that they more closely fit the modern day economy."