Labor and employment law is complex and subject to frequent, often dramatic, change. A myriad of laws and regulations — sometimes conflicting in terms and purpose — impose a heavy compliance burden on employers. There also is a plethora of state, federal, and administrative agency decisions that construe these laws, adding to the burden on employers. Labor and employment issues affect the livelihood and well-being of employees and their families and the success of the companies for which they work. The legal disputes between employers and employees can be highly charged, intensely personal, and often embarrassingly public. For these reasons, they can be very difficult to resolve.
Often, these employment disputes culminate in a lawsuit, which can be costly, time-consuming, and damaging to employee relations. The number of employment-related litigation filings has been steadily increasing over the last decade, ranging from large-scale class actions to individual complaints. Employers are facing greater challenges and financial exposure from both current and former employees than ever before.
Employment litigation covers many types of claims, including discrimination; harassment; wage-hour pay, classification, and overtime violations; wrongful discharge; entitlement to employee benefits; misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential information; unfair competition; enforcement or avoidance of restrictive covenants; labor union disputes; workplace safety violations; defamation and other employment-related torts. These claims often involve the many laws governing employee relations, which are often referred to as “employment law alphabet soup.” These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), whistleblower claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) or Dodd-Frank Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Resolving employment litigation requires knowledge of these laws and regulations, the applicable case law, and a careful case analysis and strategy. More so than in other less personal litigation, a perceptive understanding of the people involved is essential for success. Often, suits will be settled among parties or ended before trial through summary judgment based on the facts of the case. When early resolution is not achieved, however, the case will go to trial in court or before an agency tribunal. Verdicts in employment-related cases can be enormous, especially in wage-hour and other class actions, creating a high-stakes situation for employers.
David S. Rosenthal, Partner