Despite recent decisions by Connecticut’s trial judges, class actions are a widely accepted method of enforcing the rights of employees and discouraging employers from violating employment laws. A few years ago, a handful of Connecticut trial judges denied class certification to several groups of employees attempting to enforce their rights under Connecticut’s Minimum Wage Act. The general holdings were that class actions were not appropriate since it was likely that employees would have to provide individualized testimony in support of their own claims. Dan Schwartz’ Connecticut Employment Law Blog has written about these cases.
Connecticuts federal courts had previously allowed class action status under the Connecticut Minimum Wage Act, but our Superior Court judges strictly applied a holding from an unrelated case involving doctors suing Anthem Blue Cross and created a body of law destined to inhibit the protection of employee rights in Connecticut. In September, our the Supreme Court of our sister state, Massachusetts, got it right. In Salvas v. Wal-Mart, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reversed a trial court ruling and directed that court to certify a class of over 67,000 employees at 47 different Wal-Mart stores in Massachusetts. That court had no difficulty holding that class wide issues would predominate over individual ones, despite the fact that the class was comprised of several different job titles and descriptions. Congratulations to Shannon Liss-Riordan on her important victory.
The point of course is that class actions are an important tool for plaintiffs’ employment lawyers to enforce employee rights. Most courts permit these lawsuits, including the courts of Massachusetts. Connecticut’s courts, thus far, have lagged behind.