How Do I Join a Class Action and How Does it Work for Me?

What is a Class-Action Lawsuit?

Class Actions can have many benefits for employees and consumers.  At its most basic, a class-action allows for one court to  decide together in one case issues impacting many people, usually when the amount at issue is too little to attract competent counsel for individual cases but the number of people impacted by the alleged illegal practice may be very large.  When addressed together, the claims are sufficient to support a lawsuit – whether a Federal Court Class action or sometimes in state court.

How can I Join a Class-Action Lawsuit?

Participation in a Class Action depends on court approval or “certification” of the class. If you think you are potentially covered by a class action lawsuit, you should await court approved notice or contact from class counsel on instructions on how to participate. All Class-Actions typically have a notice process where potential class members (also referred to as putative class members) will receive a notice informing them of their rights and how to make a claim.  If you have received a class action notice, read it carefully to understand your options and rights.

How does a Class Action Start?

All class actions start out with a complaint and with one or more individual “lead Plaintiffs” who are willing to come forward.  Lead Plaintiffs can face more risk and more obligations than other class members.  Often, that commitment is recognized by the court approving additional award related to the service Lead Plaintiffs have rendered for the benefit of the class. A class action complaint will include allegations that a group of people have been similarly harmed and are also entitled to be part of the case.  This group (sometimes called a “class” or a “collective”) are at this point referred to as “putative class members”, until a class is certified by the Court. It isn’t until the Court approves (or “certifies” ) the class that the case can proceed as a class and notice can go out.

Joining Rule 23 Class Actions

The traditional “Opt-Out” Class Action Settlements that get media attention are brought under Federal Civil Procedure Rule 23.  Rule 23 Class actions are “opt-out” class actions. That means under Rule 23 Class Settlements, all class members are covered and the court will approve the settlement except if Class member s “Opt-Out” and actually send back a form that says they do not want to participate.  Constitutional due process or equal protection claims are typically brought as Rule 23 class actions.

Sometimes, state law wage and hour violations are also pursued as Rule 23 class actions. However, most minimum wage and overtime claims are commonly brought under a separate unique procedure under Section 216(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Joining Unpaid Overtime or Minimum Wage “Opt-in” Lawsuits

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, claims for unpaid minimum wage or overtime are treated differently from traditional Rule 23 Class Actions. Typically, one employee or a group of employees come forward alleging that they and other similarly situated employees are underpaid. In these cases, similarly situated people are permitted to “opt-in” to participate in the case using 216(b) of the FLSA.  In FLSA minimum wage and overtime claims, potential collective members are provided notice and an opportunity to opt-in.  If you received one of these notices, you should read it carefully for instructions on how to opt-in and other information about how the lawsuit impacts your rights.

Those that return a form and are permissible collective members are considered “opt-in” Plaintiffs. At times, opt-in plaintiffs are required to provide documents or testimony to prove they are similarly situated.  More commonly, the FLSA case is focused on the legality of employers’ pay policies and can proceed without much information from the opt-in plaintiffs.  If there is a judgment or settlement, opt-in plaintiffs get to recover also for the alleged illegal policies.

How do I Know if I am Covered by a Class Action?

Whether you are a member of a class action depends on many factors.  Most importantly, the scope of the class certified by the court.  Sometimes a class is only certified for people who worked in certain states, who hold specific job titles, or have suffered a particular type of injury.  If you are a covered class member, you will receive notice authorized by the court informing you of your rights.

How do I find more information about my FLSA rights?

Blanchard & Walker has a record of achieving remarkable results for Michigan workers in FLSA cases for minimum wage and overtime violations under the FLSA and Michigan wage laws. Common wage fraud schemes include:

For questions regarding the content of this post, you can contact the authors at Blanchard & Walker PLLC.