I’ve written before about the high risks companies face from wage and hour class/collective lawsuits (here’s one example). Here’s another factor to consider: the exorbitant costs imposed by e-discovery and employers’ obligations to preserve electronic records.
Workplace Prof Blog brings us the story of Pippins v. KPMG, a wage and hour collective action alleging that the accounting firm deprived its Audit Associates of overtime wages. Before the class was even certified, the court imposed upon KPGM the obligation to preserve the potential class members’ more-than 2,500 laptop hard drives. Following certification, KPMG argued that instead of preserving all of the hard drives—at an astounding cost of more than $1.5 million—it should only be required to keep a representative sample comprised of the named plaintiffs.
The court disagreed:
Based on Plaintiff’s recollections regarding their former hard drives, I agree with [Magistrate] Judge Cott that the hard drives are likely to contain relevant information. The information on the hard drives will likely demonstrate when the Audit Associates were working (hours) and what they did while at work (duties). This information is obviously relevant in a case asserting violations of the FLSA … since Plaintiffs need to establish what type of work they performed in order to prevail on the merits, and how many hours a week they worked in order to collect damages….
I gather that KPMG takes the position that the only Audit Associates who are presently “parties” are the named plaintiffs, and so only the named plaintiffs’ hard drives really need to be preserved. But that is nonsense…. [T]he duty to preserve all relevant information for “key players” is triggered when a party “reasonably anticipates litigation.” At the present moment, KPMG should “reasonably anticipate” that every Audit Associate who will be receiving opt-in notice is a potential plaintiff in this action.
What are the lessons for employers?
- When considering the goofy costs (and risks) of wage and hour non-compliance, you not only have to factor in unpaid wages, liquidated damages, your legal fees, and the employees’ legal fees, but also the costs of preserving all of the electronic information the plaintiffs will seek in discovery. Like most employment cases, there exists a palpable disparity in the ownership of information. Employers possess most of the relevant information, and therefore carry most of the costs in the retention and production of documents.
- To guard against these goofy costs, audit your wage and hour practices. ’Tis better to spend a few thousand dollars up front to gain knowledge of which of the myriad wage and hour laws your company might be violating, than to spend a few hundred thousand (or a few million!) dollars later to defend against, or pay out on, a wage and hour class action. (Not that employers can't win these cases).