The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act Anything but Fair

Yarelyn Mena and Owen H. Laird, Esq.

At a hearing on April 29, 2015, the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice discussed class action suits. The hearing covered the controversial legislation, “The Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015” (H.R. 1927). Republican committee members, Bob Goodlatte and Trent Franks proposed the legislation, which would prevent class actions from being certified without proof that each proposed class member suffered property or bodily injury of the same type and extent as the named class representative(s).

Opposition to H.R. 1927 flooded in shortly after the hearing. Paul Bland, Executive Director of Public Justice said that the legislation would make it “essentially impossible for Americans to join together in bringing class action lawsuits for nearly any illegal act a corporation might undertake.” Bland continued: “Think Brown v. Board of Education [the seminal case desegregating public schools] was a good idea? Congressman Goodlatte’s bill would make bringing that case impossible. By eliminating any class action that does not involve quantifiable ‘property’ loss or personal injury, the legislation would eliminate any case that didn’t involve money or blood.” Many fundamental class action lawsuits, such as Brown, that have affected the course of our legal history, would not have been possible under the proposed legislation. Class action lawsuits in federal court are often classified as ‘no-injury’ or ‘overbroad’ in situations where a plaintiff experienced an issue with a product or service, and others who also have purchased the product or service join the action. Cases with similar circumstances would never make it to litigation if adhering to H.R. 1927’s provisions.

Corporations would be the chief beneficiaries of the enactment of H.R. 1927. This legislation stands to limit the number and scope of potential lawsuits against them, on behalf of both employees and consumers, by making it difficult for plaintiffs to join together to file a lawsuit. Individuals, unable to unite, and faced with a lengthy litigation and extensive legal costs which often outstrip the damages asserted, will elect not to assert their rights. This dangerous consequence would allow for illegal actions to go unchecked by the legal system, as individuals are continuously violated of their rights until they pass the hurdles H.R. 1927 creates to develop a class action suit.

The purpose of class actions is to allow for individuals to act as a group to take action against widespread illegal conduct. This is especially true of employment cases where many employees are unaware that they are being wronged until another employee brings a lawsuit based on an illegal action that also pertains to them. Moreover, many employees who are afraid to pursue action individually, are willing to pursue their rights as a member of a group. A class action gives them the potential to receive compensation for any wrongs. Alexandra D. Lahav, professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, articulates: “H.R. 1927 would not improve class action practice or cure the problems that exist in that practice. Instead, under this bill companies would have an unfettered ability to lie about their products and services, discriminate against employees, defraud customers and business partners, and commit a host of other violations in the law, subject only to sporadic government enforcement.”

If you believe your employer violated your employment rights, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.