In recent years, the United States Supreme Court has done its level best to derail class actions. In decision after decision the Court has curtailed the ability of regular people to join together to challenge the actions of corporations and other entities. The more cynical among us might see this as a pattern whereby the Court is going out of its way to grant new rights to the powerful and wealthy interests in our society. (See, for example, the recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, in which the Court greatly expanded the ability of wealthy individuals to contribute to campaign funds-and thereby disproportionately influence elections.)
The Court’s attack on class actions has dramatically affected workers seeking to enforce their rights under federal and state labor laws. Many workers who have sought to represent groups of employees in court have been (1) prevented from representing other workers (by way of a class action waiver that they were forced to sign in order to get the job), and (2) forced into arbitration where they are denied the right to present their case to a jury of their peers.
Workers in California are fortunate in that they have another resource to rely upon in the event that they are unable to bring a class action. California’s Private Attorneys General Act (also known as “PAGA”) was enacted in 2004 because the California Labor & Workplace Development Agency (LWDA) did not have enough attorneys or staff to enforce the California Labor Code. The goal at that time was to allow workers-particularly low wage agricultural workers-to file representative actions on behalf of themselves and their co-workers. (California Rural Legal Assistance, an incredible organization that represents farm workers, led the fight enact PAGA.) Continue reading