Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Class actions: the smaller you are, the bigger the risk

At some point in the next several weeks, the Supreme Court will deliver its long-awaited opinion in Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Recall that Dukes will decide the propriety of the class certification of the largest sex-discrimination case ever (1.5 million employees seeking billions in damages).

As we wait for the Dukes decision, plaintiffs continue to file large discrimination class actions. The latest was filed against accounting giant KPMG. From Law360:

A former senior manager at KPMG LLP filed a putative class action Thursday in New York that claims the accounting giant shuts out women and working mothers from its upper ranks, seeking $350 million in damages.

Plaintiff Donna Kassman argues that KPMG elbows women out from the partnership track and frowns on those who use maternity leave or flexible schedule benefits, capping the number of women in management positions at well below industry standards.

Your workplace may not large enough and your employees may not earn enough for you ever to be exposed to $350 million in risk. Risk, however, is proportional to size. KMPG reported $20.6 billion in revenue in 2010. $350 million is a mere 1.7% of its annual revenue. Consider, however, that the average retail and service small business has $6,000,000 in annual revenue. You better believe that a class action would place your small business at risk to lose more than $101,400 (or 1.7%). In other words, the smaller your business, the more at risk you are from potential class actions.

While $350,000,000 is an astronomical number, it is a number that a $20 billion business can absorb. On the other hand, a class action against a small business is often “bet the company” litigation. A $1,000,000 judgment against a $6,000,000 company could easily put that company out of business.

As we wait for the Supreme Court’s Dukes opinion, consider what proactive steps you can take in your business to help insulate you from potential class actions that could put the continued viability your business in jeopardy.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or jth@kjk.com.