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Employment Cases Rebound After 6-Month Lag

By Alexis Shanes · February 11, 2021, 10:26 PM EST

New employment suits in federal courts started falling off in May 2020, but a rise in pandemic-related cases fueled a surge in the final two months of the year, according to a Lex Machina report released Thursday.

Would-be plaintiffs' increased familiarity with new pandemic-related laws and protections for employees may have played a role in the November-December litigation boost, said the report, which is based on data gathered Jan. 29.

"The recent influx of COVID employment cases has demonstrated not only an increase in filing activity, but also an increase in the sophistication of the complaints," the report noted. "As the government provides more guidance regarding employee protections and there is an increase in rulings on these issues in various states, we will likely see an increase in petitions filed around the country."

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The decline in filing activity that preceded the surge was caused in part by COVID-19 restrictions and the economic crisis, according to the report.

However, November saw the most employment cases filed in any month during the past three years, the report said. Lex Machina noted 2,282 cases in November and 2,202 in December.

Those numbers marked a "significant increase" compared to the final two months of 2018 and 2019, the report noted, adding that the pandemic played a major role in 2020's two-month spike.

All told, the 696 pandemic-driven employment cases filed in 2020 — suits "tied explicitly" to COVID-19 or disputes exacerbated by it — comprised just 3% of the nearly 20,000 employment cases lodged, according to the report.

Still, Lex Machina noted that November and December continued a yearlong trend of rising pandemic-linked cases. December recorded 145 COVID-19-related complaints — the most of any month — while November had 119.

Nearly three-quarters of those pandemic-related suits involved retaliation claims, according to the report, while 41% named discrimination or Family and Medical Leave Act violations.

The Southern District of New York was the busiest venue for pandemic-linked employment cases last year, logging 60 complaints, the report noted. The Southern District of Florida and the District of New Jersey followed with 44 each, and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recorded 42.

The report suggested high numbers in New York and Florida may be linked to large COVID-19 outbreaks in those regions. Florida in particular has more nonexempt hourly employees who may have access to fewer workplace protections, according to Lex Machina.

--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.

Law360 is owned by LexisNexis Legal & Professional, a RELX company, which owns Lex Machina.

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