The Assault on Class Actions is an Assault on Your Civil Liberties

March 30, 2017

Scales of justice class actions

It’s almost hard to believe that it’s been less than 100 days since the Trump administration took office. In that time, several pieces of legislation have been introduced that seek to roll back and abolish regulations across a wide spectrum of industries. From references to climate change being purged to the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, sweeping changes are a daily headline.

To date, the greatest form of checks and balances to the Trump administration has been the judicial branch. The courts successfully blocked President Trump’s infamous travel ban, forcing a revision that is itself currently being contested. But while the courts work to ensure that the President’s power does not go unchecked, an assault on the legal system threatens to rob victims of their right to seek justice from those who have harmed them.

H.R. 985, also known as the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017, is a bill that seeks to undermine the enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws by imposing significant restrictions on class actions and other mass lawsuits. Even more troubling, if the bill becomes a law, it could retroactively impact pending class action lawsuits, not only future claims.

As of this writing, the bill has already passed The House with a vote of 220-201, and has been advanced to the Senate who referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

What the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act Does

Class actions are an essential tool to ensure that victims of widespread abuse from large corporations and entities can get the justice they deserve without having to shoulder the legal burden alone. The bill states that its goal is to “assure fair and prompt recoveries for class members and multi-district litigation plaintiffs with legitimate claims.” In reality, the bill’s provisions would make it nearly impossible for victims of corporate wrongdoing to receive justice through a class action or multi-district litigation.

The bill requires that every individual member of the plaintiff class must have suffered the same type and scope of injury. For example, if you are harmed by employment discrimination, you would only be allowed to join a class where all members have suffered the exact same amount of lost wages for the exact same duration. Since each class member’s damages will differ, this is an impossible standard to meet.

H.R. 985 also makes it more difficult for attorneys to represent clients in class action suits. It prohibits lawyers from representing family members or employees (past or present), as well as clients they have previously represented. Not only does this interfere with the contractual rights between private parties, it would prevent you from being able to choose an attorney you know and trust to represent you effectively.

 

Perhaps the most burdensome aspect of the bill is that the restrictions are placed entirely on the plaintiffs’ side of the case. Plaintiff attorneys are required to prove causation and liability before discovery in multi-district litigation. Fee restrictions in the bill only apply to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, while the corporate defendants can spend as much as they like. This would allow large corporations with deep pockets to drive up the cost of litigation, forcing many plaintiffs’ to accept ludicrously low-ball settlements or drop their cases entirely.

 

What You Can Do

If H.R. 985 becomes law, it will severely impact everyone’s ability to seek justice and receive compensation for their injuries. In order to make sure that your civil liberties are preserved, reaching out to your elected officials and urging them to vote “no” on H.R. 985 can make a huge difference.

You can contact the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your state’s senators. Calling can be more effective than sending an email or a tweet, as those options can be ignored or overlooked. Public Justice has published a list of key talking points to use as you explain why they should oppose the bill.

Every one of us is just one unlawful act away from being a potential victim of sexual harassment, discrimination, or corporate wrongdoing. If this bill passes and becomes law, you will lose a vital right to seek justice for yourself and others. Your actions can help ensure this doesn’t happen.


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