The Class Action Weekly Wire – Episode 36: California Wage & Hour Class Action Settles For $155 Million

Duane Morris Takeaway: This week’s episode of the Class Action Weekly Wire features Duane Morris partner Jerry Maatman and associate Greg Tsonis with their discussion of a California wage & hour settlement for $155 million in a class action brought by correctional officers regarding overtime wages for pre- and post-shift tasks.

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Episode Transcript

Jerry Maatman: Thank you for being here. Welcome to our Friday weekly podcast called the Class Action Weekly Wire. My name is Jerry Maatman I’m a partner at Duane Morris, and today we’re joined by my colleague Greg Tsonis who works in our employment group here in Chicago. Welcome, Greg.

Greg Tsonis: Thanks, Jerry. I’m very happy to be here.

Jerry: Today on our podcast we’re discussing wage and hour litigation. By my way of thinking – the number one risk that employers have throughout the United States. And there was a significant development this week with a rather substantial settlement involving correctional officers in California. Greg, can you give us a thumbnail description of what occurred ?

Greg: Absolutely, Jerry. So this case has actually been going on for 15 years. The classes in this case consisted of over 10,000 current and retired correctional sergeants and lieutenants that worked in the California correctional system. They filed suit against the state of California and its Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation alleging that they failed to pay overtime wages for preliminary and postliminary work activities – things like security searches, tool pickup, and pre-shift supervisory responsibilities – extending all the way back to 2005.

Jerry: Because of a more than 15-year litigation timeline – is that unusual in California or other parts of the country?

Greg: Very unusual, definitely not typical for a wage and hour class action alleging these types of claims to go on for 15 years.

Jerry: What were some of the terms of the settlement, and in your mind why is it significant for employers?

Greg: So in terms of the topline dollars, the party settled the claims for $155 million which included $46.5 million in attorney fees to three different law LA firms. Ultimately in the Court’s analysis of the settlement, it determined that the settlement was fair, reasonable, and adequate and found that it afforded members of the settlement classes meaningful relief under the circumstances, taking into consideration the risks and expenses of continued litigation. The Court also found that the fees requested were reasonable in part based on both the results obtained by class counsel as well as the issues and risk involved in the case, and the fact that the litigation had been going on for over 15 years. So a settlement this size – certainly employers should be aware of the potential risk for wage and hour class actions that have the potential for these sorts of nine figure settlements.

Jerry: In terms of a 15-year timeline, what were some of challenges confronted in the case involving uh class members who passed away, class members who went on to other jobs and were ex-employees, and then morale issues with the current employee population?

Greg: That’s exactly right Jerry. So thousands of the original class members have obviously retired at this point given the length of time, and one of the original named plaintiffs and even other unnamed class members have even passed away since the litigation commenced. In fact, indicated in their final settlement approval motion was that it would be a great benefit to the remaining class members to finalize the settlement at long last and you know get these individuals paid as soon as possible.

Jerry: $155 million is a monster huge settlement. I’ve studied this area for about 20 years and done comparative analyses of top 10 settlements in each calendar year, and I know that last year the top 10 wage and hour class action settlements topped out at about $545 million. Where does this year’s $155 million class action settlement rank this particular case?

Greg: Great question. So far this year this settlement ranks at number two in the wage and hour space of top settlements in 2023. It’s obviously a very significant settlement and could very well stay at the top of the range of recoveries for wage and hour cases this year.

Jerry: Well inevitably, like most often with taxes and rates go up, it sounds like 2023 is trending for a very, very big year and possibly higher settlement numbers than in years in the past.

Greg: I think that’s absolutely right Jerry.

Jerry: Well thank you for your thought leadership and joining us today, Greg< and providing your analysis of this particular noteworthy settlement .

Greg: Thanks for having me Jerry and thank you to all the listeners.

Jerry: That’s it for our Friday weekly podcast thanks for joining us here at the Duane Morris Class Action Blog.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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