MENLO PARK, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – Employment litigation cases are on the rise in the Southeastern U.S. where tens of thousands have been filed in federal court since 2009, but employers are largely winning, a California-based litigation data research company said in a recent report.
Plaintiffs in the Southeast filed more than 68,000 employment cases in the past decade, which pencils out to more than 6,000 per year, Lex Machina, based in Menlo Park, California, said in its 2019 report "Employment Litigation in the Southeast."
"Case resolutions and findings overwhelmingly favor employers with a large number of decisions made at the summary judgment stage in this practice area," the report said.
The regional report, released this month, explores trends and analyzes in federal district court cases, including those located in the Fifth and 11th circuits in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Firms were especially kept busy with Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) litigation, according to the report.
"Exceptionally large numbers of cases were filed in 2012 and 2015, due to a large number of related cases filed in those years alleging FLSA violations," the report said.
Two "Walmart-related entities" were named in the most suits in the Southeast during the past decade, followed by the U.S. Postal Service and Sandbox Transportation LLC, according to the report.
The findings portion of the report also looked at Southeast regional employment cases that terminated 2016 to 2018, breaking them down by judgment type.
"Courts made large numbers of findings at summary judgment in this practice area," identifying the biggest cases counts as 837 no retaliation cases, 472 no Title VII discrimination cases based on race or color, and 359 legitimate reason defense cases that ended in favor of employers at summary judgment. Employers also won 356 no hostile work environment and harassment cases.
Employees had a better chance of winning in cases that made it past the summary judgment phase, according to the report, which found things "evenly split at trial" in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and no ADA discrimination and disability cases, based on eight findings.
"Additionally, exemption defense and no exemption defense were found 12 times each at trial," the report said. "Employees did receive a finding of FLSA violation on default judgment in 364 cases."
When courts have awarded damages in the past decade, it has happened most often in collection actions in federal courts in Florida, with Texas coming in second, according to the report.
"Although courts in Texas and Florida awarded nearly the same amount of back pay, those in Florida awarded much more front pay, which was rarely awarded in the region overall," the report said. "Courts in Florida and Texas awarded the most attorneys' fees and costs, both awarding about $6 million each."
The report also identified the most-active plaintiffs' law firms in the Southeast based on employment case filings between 2016 and 2018, with the top five plaintiffs’ law firms all practicing in districts in Florida. The top law firm, Morgan & Morgan, Florida's largest law firm, "was most active in districts in three states," the report said.
Morgan & Morgan filed more than 500 cases in Florida district courts, 125 cases in Georgia district courts and 44 cases in Mississippi district courts, with 85 percent of those cases having FLSA claims.
Other firms that made the reports most active list tended to file districts in only one state only. Of those, 68 percent of Remer & Georges-Pierre’s cases had FLSA claims, according to the report.
"On the other hand, Marie A. Mattox’s cases more often included discrimination or retaliation claims," the report said.
Meanwhile, defendants' law firms tended to practice in "more of a regional presence" with some of the most-active of those firms being "nationally known for their employment law practice," the report said.
The four most-active defendants' law firms, which appeared in all 18 districts in the region, were Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart; Littler Mendelson; Jackson Lewis and Fisher & Phillips, according to the report.
"The [U.S.] Department of Justice and the state of Texas show up on this list because their attorneys represent the government entity when it is sued as an employer," the report said. "The most active defendants' law firms tended to see larger numbers of cases than plaintiffs' law firms. Defendants' law firms generally saw discrimination and retaliation claims most often."