​The value of the top 10 private-plaintiff wage and hour class actions in 2019 totaled $449.05 million, nearly double the 2018 total of $253.5 million, according to a recent report from law firm Seyfarth.

There were more favorable class certification rulings for plaintiffs in 2019 than in any other year in the past decade. Of the 271 wage and hour certification decisions in 2019, plaintiffs won 199 of 245 conditional certification rulings—approximately 81 percent.

"Certification is the holy grail in class-action litigation," said Gerald Maatman Jr., an attorney with Seyfarth in Chicago and New York City.

Jennifer Shaw, an attorney with Shaw Law Group in Sacramento, Calif., explained that class certification is a court's determination that one or more important issues in a case can be resolved with common proof without looking at each person's circumstances. "It is well-established that when classes are certified, it creates leverage for plaintiffs," she said. "An individual's claim may be $100. But if there are 10,000 class members and the case is certified, the $100 potential exposure may quickly multiply to $1 million or more."

Any time there is a wage and hour class action, said Michael Elkins, an attorney with MLE Law in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., there is the possibility for a large jury verdict or a large settlement.

Top Settlements

Last year proved to be no exception. Here are the top 10 private-plaintiff wage and hour class action settlements entered in 2019:

1. $100 million: In Re Wackenhut Wage and Hour Cases, Calif. Super. Ct., No. JCCP 4545 (Oct. 21, 2019). The court granted final approval for a settlement involving claims brought by security officers who alleged a failure to provide meal and rest breaks under California law.

2. $100 million: Van Dusen v. Swift Transportation Co., D. Ariz., No. 10-CV-899 (April 18, 2019). The court granted preliminary approval to settle claims of drivers who asserted they were misclassified as independent contractors and deprived of proper wages and reimbursement of expenses.

3. $98.8 million: Roberts v. C.R. England Inc., D. Utah, No. 12-CV-302 (July 9, 2019). The court granted final approval for settlement of a class action involving drivers who alleged the defendants misrepresented the income that was available to them after they finished the company's training programs.

4. $35 million: Merino v. Wells Fargo & Co., D. N.J., No. 16-CV-7840 (July 9, 2019). The court granted preliminary approval to settle a class action involving 38,000 bank tellers alleging the company failed to pay proper overtime compensation.

5. $26 million: Sanchez v. McDonald's Restaurants of California Inc., Calif. Super. Ct., No. BC499888 (Nov. 22, 2019). The parties sought settlement approval in a class action involving thousands of workers alleging a failure to pay proper wages for hours worked.

6. $22.5 million: Alfred v. Pepperidge Farm Inc., C.D. Calif., No. 14-CV-7086 (Oct. 10, 2019). The court granted final approval to settle a class action brought by product distributors in three states who alleged they were denied employment benefits since they were misclassified as independent contractors.

7. $20 million: O'Connor v. Uber Technologies, N.D. Calif., No. 13-CV-3826 (Aug. 29, 2019). The parties sought settlement approval in an action alleging the ride-hailing company classified drivers as independent contractors to avoid paying them a minimum wage and providing benefits.

8. $16.5 million: Carter v. XPO Logistics Inc., N.D. Calif., No. 16-CV-1231 (Oct. 18, 2019). The court granted final approval to settle minimum-wage and overtime claims involving allegations of misclassifying delivery drivers.

9. $15.25 million: Valliere v. Tesoro Refining & Marketing Co., N.D. Calif., No. 17-CV-123 (May 9, 2019). The court approved a settlement for wage and hour claims of California-based oil refinery operators who alleged their employer failed to provide proper rest breaks.

10. $15 million: Woods v. Caremark, W.D. Mo., No. 14-CV-583 (May 31, 2019). The court granted preliminary approval for a settlement of wage and hour claims brought by telephone customer service representatives accusing the company of failing to pay for preshift work.

Although six of these settlements involved lawsuits pending in either state or federal courts in California, Maatman said that wage and hour claims are becoming more common elsewhere, such as in the Midwest, where there was a surge in class certifications last year.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with U.S. Wage and Hour Laws and Wage Payment Laws]

Government Settlements

In addition to these private-plaintiff settlements, government agencies entered settlements in wage and hour disputes last year. For example, in New York Department of Labor v. AGL Industries Inc., the New York Department of Labor reached a $6.25 million settlement resulting from its investigation of alleged unpaid overtime wages and reporting of fraudulent financial information to the state to cover up violations, the report noted.

And in U.S. Department of Labor v. WSP USA Services Inc., the U.S. Department of Labor entered a $2.77 million settlement stemming from an investigation relating to prevailing wages, overtime wages and fringe benefits.


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