by Michael Kun and Doug Weiner
It is no secret that employers have been beseiged by wage-hour litigation, including wage-hour class actions and collective actions. These lawsuits have hit the hospitality industry as hard as any other industry, perhaps harder.
It is also no secret that the persons who benefit most from these actions are often plaintiffs’ counsel, who frequently receive one-third or more of any recovery.
Now, as a result of an unprecedented new program initiated by the the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division ("WHD"), the WHD will be practically delivering potential plaintiffs to the doors of plaintiffs’ counsel — and the WHD has invited plaintiffs’ counsel to let it know if it wants a piece of the action.
Despite the fact that the WHD has an increased enforcement budget and has hired 350 new investigators over the last two years, the WHD has said that it is unable to handle all of the claims it receives. Rather than seek more funding or implement new procedures to handle the claims, the WHD has made a stunning announcement that can only lead to an increase in wage-hour litigation across the country. It has announced that it will begin referring employees directly to attorneys to assist them with their claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). The WHD’s new program, which is referred to as the "Bridge to Justice," is part of collaboration with the American Bar Association.
The Department of Labor’s guidance on the "Bridge to Justice" program may be found here. Under the new initiative, employees will be given a toll-free number to obtain referrals to attorneys in their area. And attorneys who wish to be included on the referral list are invited to submit their names.
For employers — and hospitality employers in particular — the "Bridge to Justice" is likely to be seen as little more than the latest effort by the WHD to encourage employees to sue their employers, rather than to raise any concerns with their employers and try to resolve them amicably.
For plaintiffs’ counsel, the "Bridge to Justice" is likely to be seen as an early holiday gift from the WHD, one that they will reap the benefits of for years to come