There is no legal minimum to the number of people who can form a class-action suit against their employer or a larger organization, but it usually takes 40 or more wronged individuals to make a strong case and have your case accepted. The question is: When should you start seriously considering a class action lawsuit instead of a personal case against an abusive employer?
Workplace abuse can happen to anyone, and every employee should be able to defend their rights as a person and as a professional in the company. From payroll manipulation to privilege discrimination to a blatant disregard for employee safety, the fact of the matter is that employees almost never see it coming. Whether employer abuse begins suddenly (ex: reprisals for whistle-blowing) or it slowly dawns on you that you are being mistreated, most employees’ first instinct is to keep quiet and keep their heads down.
After all, you don’t want to lose your job, seem like a complainer, or make things worse. You may fear retaliation for speaking up or even second-guess your own objections. Maybe you take the issue to HR and they blow-off your problem, make excuses for the perpetrators, or even encourage you to cover up the abuses. Maybe it even turns against you and you’re considering quitting rather than making a big deal out of the issue. But what happens when you start to realize that it isn’t just a matter of one bad boss or an ill-fitting company culture? What if many of your coworkers are also suffering?
The Beginnings of an Employee Class Action – The Initial Complaint
While some employee class actions come together swiftly, as in the case of mass-firings or overwhelming safety violations, most happen far more slowly. It often begins with one person who has had enough and begins looking into what they realize is a problem. Let’s use the example of discriminatory raises and promotions to make the conversation simple, though your problem could be any number of widespread employer violations of trust and legal responsibility.
One person of a particular demographic that is not the company majority realized they have been passed over for a promotion or raise they worked hard for. They are annoyed and decide to rock the boat, just a little bit. Their supervisor blows them off or provides a clearly weak excuse for the reason, or even provides a condescending platitude. “You’re so much better at [X lesser tasks] than [coworker who was promoted].” At first, they think it is one bad manager, or one instance of favorites-playing.
A Pattern Emerges
The first person complains to another coworker that has been around longer who nods sagely and says that coworkers X, Y, and Z have had similar experiences, and that ex-employees Q and R left over it not long ago. This gets the initial person curious. They begin to dig deeper and a pattern emerges. Out there in the open, but unspoken and unaddressed, this company has been promoting people who meet certain demographic over others who do not, mostly disregarding performance and qualification. This usually stems from an inherent belief in the highest levels of management (and the managers they hired) that some people are naturally better than others.
They talk to coworkers X, Y, and Z who are also fed up, but may not have realized the troubles (and similarities) shared between them. While four people, or however many you find in your initial investigation, are not enough to start a class action; chances are the same employer has done the same thing to others that have yet to be discovered.
Realizing that there is systemic employee abuse in your workplace can be an upsetting discovery, but it’s not something you have to face alone. Not only will you build the support of fellow employees, but here at Aiman-Smith & Marcy, we have dedicated our practice to protecting employees from the abuses of large companies who think they can get away with anything. With your class action, we can help you hold your employer accountable for their abhorrent actions and bring these abuses to light for the unacceptable conduct they are.
Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article where we’ll talk about finding more members for your class action, choosing a primary defendant, and putting together a strong case against your employer.
[To be continued in Part 2]
Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we specialize in protecting employees from the abuses of large companies who think they can get away with mistreatment just because they are large and have deep pockets. Let us defend your employee rights and help you get the justice and compensation you deserve for experiencing mistreatment at the hands of your employer.