Wave of Equal Pay Lawsuits Continues to Build
Equal pay issues are receiving a great deal of attention in the media, at regulatory agencies, and in various state legislatures. Given all this attention, it is unsurprising plaintiffs’ law firms have been quick to jump on the equal pay bandwagon. Experienced plaintiffs’ class action firms have recently launched a variety of equal pay class or collective actions against employers. And those law firms have deployed a sophisticated array of tools to prosecute those claims.
We have seen numerous equal pay class and collective actions filed against employers across the country, although these cases have been concentrated in states that have recently adopted pay equity statutes – California and New York in particular. Plaintiffs’ firms in those states have sought to leverage the broader protections afforded by new statutes to drive their claims.
Employers in varying industries have been targeted, including technology, transportation/logistics, financial services, manufacturing, and legal services. Although every industry is at risk, it appears plaintiffs’ firms are focusing on industries with a documented history of pay inequity, highly compensated employees, and larger compensation differences from employee to employee. Plaintiffs’ firms have also begun to pull public information regarding OFCCP, EEOC or other pay equity investigations/agreements, to seek opportunities to raise claims against the employers involved in those matters.
Given the heightened public attention on with pay equity issues, experienced plaintiffs’ firms have not hesitated to deploy the media to their advantage in these claims. Many firms have adopted a practice of issuing a press release the moment they file the complaint. Sophisticated attorneys can use their strong connections with the press to drive publicity. And the media has been receptive to such tactics, given the current public interest in pay equity.
Thus far it is unclear how successful these tactics will be in driving large recoveries. The claims are (for the most part) still working their way through the legal process. A few claims have been resolved – for example, a million-dollar individual award in a pay equity claim against the LeClairRyan law firm, which was handed down in arbitration in 2018. Other claims have been settled, such as a class-action lawsuit against Qualcomm, which was settled for $19.5 million. But many claims are still in progress.
Given the public climate and continuing increased legislative and regulatory activity in this area, it is certain that 2019 will see even more class and collective action lawsuits alleging federal and state equal pay claims.