Wage and hour class actions are not drying up, and the trend is spreading from California to other states, as noted in a recent firm newsletter published by Chicago defense firm Vedder Price. Some reasons: Thomas M. Wilde suggests three: merit; likelihood of success; and a willingness by trial judges to certify these cases.
First and foremost, plaintiffs' lawyers have discovered that most employers do not follow the law. Nothing feeds a frenzy of litigation like a culture of lawlessness, which is what one finds at many places of employment, at least as it pertains to a wage and hour law. There are quite a few widespread practices in various industries that violate wage and hour laws. Often, employees do not know that the practices are illegal, and so they do not consult attorneys. Hence, attorneys are unaware that the practices exist. At some point, the crucial exchange of knowledge passes between employee and attorney, often in the context of an evaluation of wrongful termination claims; and the result is often sweeping litigation.
Second, the cases are easier to win than many other kinds of plaintiffs' cases. Often, by the time a plaintiff leaves our office for the first time, we know with 99% certainty that the case is a winner (or, conversely, we know that it is not and the prospective client does not become a plaintiff), and we usually know roughly what the case is worth. We also know that the attorney's fee award will increase if the employer forces us to spend a great deal of time on a case. Consequently, we can afford to hold out for a good settlement, and, if forced to do so, we can try these cases economically.
Third, as more and more of these cases are successfully managed and settled or tried, courts are becoming more willing than before to treat these cases collectively.