3 Recent California Wage & Hour Case Decisions That Prove Taking Legal Action Against Wage Theft Is Worth It

Aug 19, 2022 | Employment

Many California workers do not realize that federal and state laws are designed to protect them from being victimized by unfair employment practices, such as wage theft. The reality is that countless successful wage & hour lawsuits have been successfully argued on behalf of workers who have been short-changed by their employers. Since 2017, the dollar value of settlements in such cases has gone up. In 2016, wage and hour settlements totaled about $1.8 billion. By 2017, this figure had increased to about $2.72 billion, and has been increasing steadily through the pandemic.  

If your employer hasn’t paid you fairly for every hour you’ve worked, you may have a good reason to work with a lawyer and file a lawsuit against them to recover the damages you rightfully deserve. Some employees who have been wronged don’t think that a few missed paychecks warrant legal action, but you may be surprised at what your employer is actually taking from you and how that can hurt your financial security in the future. In this article, we’ll explain what you need to know about wage and hour cases and cite examples of some of the most successful cases in the recent past that prove that it is worth it to take legal action against wage theft!

Typical Causes For Wage And Hour Lawsuits

Over the last decade, wage and hour claims – where employees seek compensation for wrongfully withheld or denied wages that they worked for – have become the most common employment lawsuit filed in US courts. There are a number of reasons why workers would file a lawsuit; some of the most common causes include…

Exemption Classification Errors

The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) establishes two categories of employees – exempt and nonexempt. Exempt employees don’t have a legal right to earn overtime pay, and have other and fewer protections under the law. These are typically executive and administrative employees – salaried, not hourly, although there are exceptions. The FLSA and California state laws clearly distinguish between the two categories, and stipulate that non-exempt employees must be paid overtime for every hour they work beyond their normal working hours. However, some employers deliberately or unknowingly classify non-exempt workers as exempt and fail to pay them overtime. In such a situation, the workers affected are within their rights to file a wage and hour case to recover the money they should have been paid according to the law and ensure that they are paid their proper dues going forward.

Overtime can add up quickly depending on the profession in question. If your employer hasn’t paid you for overtime over a long period of time, you could stand to gain thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands in unpaid overtime compensation. 

Misclassifying Gig Workers

This is another way for employers to avoid their obligation to workers by misclassifying their status. As the dynamics of business change, many companies now increasingly rely on independent contractors. How employees are compensated is very different from how independent contractors are paid. For example, gig workers (at least in the state of California, and at least at this time – although the laws around this issue have recently become a source of heated debate) are not entitled to benefits such as overtime. Knowingly or unknowingly, employers will sometimes classify workers as gig workers but treat them like employees. In such cases, the workers have a right to file a wage and hour lawsuit to similarly recover unpaid wages, as we shall see in the examples we give.

Workers must remember that it does not matter if the employer has gotten them to sign a contract classifying them as independent contractors. Instead, the court looks at the dynamics of their workplace engagement. For example, the courts look at the degree of independence that such workers enjoy, among many other factors, when making such a ruling.

Violating State Laws

All states and municipalities have laws that guide the interaction between workers and their employers. Increasingly, employers may comply with federal laws like FLSA, but violate state laws or county laws. For example, states such as California have higher minimum wage thresholds, and certain counties within California have even higher thresholds. Employers, by law, have to comply with FLSA and still uphold the highest standard of state and municipal laws. If employers are paying you the federal minimum wage, but not California’s, or are paying you California’s but not your county’s, then they may be underpaying you by thousands of dollars every year or more. Checking with an experienced local wage & hour attorney as to whether your workplace complies with local regulations is always a good idea.

There are many other ways that employers can break the laws and take advantage of their employees monetarily. Here are some recent examples of wage & hour lawsuits that have successfully been resolved in favor of the employees who were wronged. You may recognize some of the violations that we have described from the examples.

Wackenhut Wage And Hour Case

In the Wackenut wage and hour lawsuit brought on by employees – security guards in this case –  the guards alleged that, contrary to the state’s regulations, their employer did not relieve them of all their duties during their one-hour meal break. The guards also claimed that contrary to the state’s regulations, their employer did not give them the mandatory ten-minute rest break for every hour worked. A California court found in favor of the employees and awarded them a $100 million compensation package.

Van Dusen v. Swift Transportation Co.

In this lawsuit, Swift Transportation Company is alleged to have misclassified employees as independent contractors. By doing this, it denied them compensation and other rights that they should have enjoyed as employees. Apart from wages, the workers alleged that the company refused to reimburse them for expenses incurred during the performance of their duties by claiming they were independent contractors.

Eventually, the case was settled by a $100 million compensation package to the 20,000 workers who were part of this lawsuit. In ruling for the workers, the court asserted that while the company was contractually engaging the workers as independent contractors, the reality was that it asserted the same control over them as it would if they were employees.

XPO Logistics Wage And Hour Case

In this class action lawsuit, former and current delivery drivers charged that XPO Logistics, a freight company, deliberately misclassified them as independent contractors. By doing this, the company could avoid paying millions of dollars in overtime wages and other benefits. In this case, the employer got the delivery drivers to sign Delivery Service Agreements that stipulated that they were independent contractors. However, the court found that the degree of control that the company had on them was closer to that of employees than it was for independent contractors.

Eventually, the company agreed to settle the case, paying $16 million to about 900 workers involved in the suit. This case, in particular, underlines the fact that even the existence of a contract between employers and their workers does not stand in the way of a favorable ruling for the workers.

Let Southern California Attorneys, A.P.C. Fight For Justice & For The Compensation You Are Due

If you know or suspect that you are a victim of wage theft by your employer, call Southern California Attorneys, A.P.C., today to schedule a free, confidential consultation and learn what your case may be worth. It costs nothing to talk to us initially about your case, and because undocumented immigrants are protected under wage and hour laws, you don’t have to fear negative immigration consequences. At our firm, we believe strongly in the rights of employees, no matter their socioeconomic status; we offer our legal services on a contingency fee basis, meaning that if we win, your employer will be made to cover our fees (if we lose, you will not owe us fees). You may be able to recover more than you realize! Don’t wait. Call now.

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