(un)Free Enterprise

“Mark R. Thierman pursues a practice that in recent years has won his clients hundreds of millions of dollars from some of the biggest names in Corporate America—and produced tens of millions for himself…

“Thierman sues companies for violating ‘wage and hour’ rules, typically claiming they have failed to pay overtime to workers who deserve it. Since the beginning of this decade, this litigation has exploded nationwide. Because wage and hour laws have been so widely violated, undetonated legal mines remain buried in countless companies, according to defense and plaintiffs' lawyers alike.

“No one tracks precise figures, but lawyers on both sides estimate that over the last few years companies have collectively paid out more than $1 billion annually to resolve these claims, which are usually brought on behalf of large groups of employees. What's more, companies can get hit again and again with suits on behalf of different groups of workers or for alleged violations of different provisions of a complex tapestry of laws. Framed on the wall of Thierman's office, for example, is a copy of a check from a case he settled for $18 million in 2003 on behalf of Starbucks (SBUX ) store managers in California. But the coffee chain is currently defending overtime lawsuits, filed by other attorneys, in Florida and Texas. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT )is swamped with about 80 wage and hour suits, and in the past two years has seen juries award $172 million to workers in California and $78.5 million in Pennsylvania.

“‘This is the biggest problem for companies out there in the employment area by far,’ says J. Nelson Thomas, a Rochester (N.Y.) attorney, who, like Thierman, switched from defense to plaintiffs' work. ‘I can hit a company with a hundred sexual harassment lawsuits, and it will not inflict anywhere near the damage that [a wage and hour suit] will.’ Steven B. Hantler, an assistant general counsel at Chrysler, says plaintiffs' lawyers are ‘trying to make all employees subject to overtime. It's subverting the free enterprise system’."

(“Wage Wars.” Michael Orey. Business Week: October 1, 2007. , Iss. 4052; pg. 50)

JUSTICE, fairness, and equality for one and all...

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