Class Action vs. Individual Lawsuit Claims. Pros & Cons

Violations of employment law are common. California employees can file an individual action against their employer seeking relief and damages. 

However, violations of employment law can involve multiple employees. When that occurs, an employee may consider filing a class action suit instead of an individual lawsuit. 

Class Action Lawsuits vs. Individual Lawsuits in Employment Law

In an individual lawsuit, one person sues a defendant seeking damages for the harm caused by the defendant. The lawsuit resolves employment disputes related to that one individual. 

In a class action lawsuit, a group of plaintiffs or class of individuals sue a defendant for damages caused by the same conduct instead of filing multiple individual claims. Generally, lead plaintiffs represent the entire class of individuals (class members) with similar injuries and damages. 

Sometimes, there could be strength in numbers. Having a group of employees claim the same wrongful acts by an employer could provide more support for their claims. However, there are also downsides to joining a class action lawsuit instead of filing an individual action. 

Requirements for Filing an Employment Class Action Lawsuit

A small number of employees sue an employer on behalf of all affected employees. The plaintiffs attempt to prove that the employer’s illegal actions against them impact a larger group of employees. 

However, before you can file a class action lawsuit against your employer, you must apply for a class certification. The court must find that:

  • The proposed class is significant and measurable
  • There is a well-defined community of interest
  • The benefits of a class action are preferable to filing individual claims
  • There is a definable class of affected employees affected by the alleged violations of employment law

When you apply for the certification of a class, you must show that there are employees who have claims that involve the same questions of law or fact. In other words, the individual employee lawsuits would allege the same employment violations based on the same or sufficiently similar set of facts.

Employment class action lawsuits are used for many types of employment issues. Examples of employment class action lawsuits include, but are not limited to:

If the court certifies the class action lawsuit, potential class members receive a notice of the class action. They can opt in or out of the class action lawsuit. 

California employers have sought to prevent employees from filing or joining class action lawsuits in the past. Beginning in 2020, California law prohibited employers from requiring applicants to give up their right to sue as a condition of employment. The employee can decline a mandatory arbitration clause without fear of employer retaliation. 

Pros and Cons of Class Action Lawsuits for Employment Matters

California Code of Civil Procedure §382 states that one or more parties may sue or defend for the benefit of the class when there is a common or general interest of numerous parties, and it is impractical to file individual lawsuits with the court. However, having the right to file a class action lawsuit does not always mean it is in your best interest. There are advantages and disadvantages to pursuing a class action claim.

Promote Judicial Efficiency and Reduce the Cost of Litigation 

Instead of dealing with hundreds or thousands of individual lawsuits, there is only one case to litigate. The parties can streamline discovery by addressing the entire class instead of spending time responding to individual lawsuits. The class action lawsuit resolves the dispute for all class members with one action, which can lower the costs of litigation for all parties and be much less time-consuming for the parties. 

Reduce Employer Retaliation 

Employees often fear filing an employment complaint because their employer might retaliate against them, even though state and federal laws prohibit employer retaliation against employees who exercise their legal rights as an employee. You could file a retaliation claim if your employer retaliated against you for filing a lawsuit. However, you suffer the consequences of the retaliation in the short term.

In a class action lawsuit, only the lead plaintiffs are named in the lawsuit. As a result, other employees can join the class action without the same attention they would receive if they filed individual claims.

Effective for Small Claims 

If you sue your employer for small amounts, the cost of litigation could be higher than the amount of your damages. However, a class action lawsuit can reduce expenses for all class members. In addition, it can make bringing smaller claims more cost-effective so that an employer’s wrongful acts do not go unpunished.

Stop Illegal Employment Practices 

A class action lawsuit seeks to stop illegal employment practices against all affected employees. The lawsuit also protects future employees from being subjected to unlawful employment practices. The result can be a safer and fairer workplace for all employees.

Your Compensation is Limited 

A class action settlement or jury award might not fully compensate all class members for their damages. Therefore, if you sustained severe harm because of an employer’s action, you might want to consult a San Diego employment lawyer about an individual claim before joining a class action lawsuit.

You Do Not Have Control Over the Lawsuit

Class members give up control of the case. The lead plaintiffs and their lawyers decide when to settle a claim or proceed to court. If you do not want to be one of the lead plaintiffs, you do not have control over decisions that could impact the outcome for you. 

You Give Up Your Right to File an Individual Claim

Generally, when you join a class action lawsuit, you waive your right to file an individual claim against the employer for the same issue. However, if the class action lawsuit fails, you lose your legal right to pursue your claim.

Quick Results Are Not Guaranteed

Even though a class action lawsuit streamlines the process by combining similar claims into one case, it does not mean you will receive a quick resolution to your claim. Class action lawsuits can take several years to resolve. However, you might be able to resolve an individual claim in a shorter time.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation with Our San Diego Employment Lawyers

If your employer has mistreated you, we want to help. Our legal team has years of experience representing clients in California labor law matters. Call our law firm to schedule your free consultation with one of our San Diego employment law attorneys.