In order to bring a class action lawsuit, typically the class must be so large as to make individual suits impractical; there must be legal or factual claims in common among all the members of the class; the claims or defenses must be typical of the plaintiffs or defendants; the representative parties must adequately predominate the proceedings; and the common issues between the class and the defendants will predominate the proceedings. If the court rules that a class action lawsuit is appropriate, generally a notice is sent to everyone who may qualify as a plaintiff. If a person does not wish to be bound by the action, the person can choose to “opt-out” of the class.
In a class action lawsuit, several plaintiffs will serve as representatives for the entire class of plaintiffs. If the court finds that these representative plaintiffs’ rights were violated, then the entire class of plaintiffs will be entitled to damages. If the court finds that the representatives’ rights were not violated, the entire class of plaintiffs is bound by that judgment and will not be allowed to pursue individual claims regarding the substance of the class action suit.
A different type of multiple-plaintiff suit is filed for employees alleging violations of their right to minimum wage or overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Under the FLSA, any injured employee may maintain a collective action against the employer. Unlike certification for a class action, certification for a collective action is significantly easier. Plaintiffs in a collective action need only establish that they are similarly situated in order to maintain a collective action. At the beginning of litigation, the named plaintiff can send an “opt-in” notice to other similarly situated employees, who then have the option of joining the suit. If other employees do not wish to join the existing suit, they have no obligation to do so and are not bound by the outcome of the litigation. However, if they do want to opt into the suit, they are bound by the resolution. At the end of the discovery phase of litigation, the court may consider whether to reduce the size of the collective class or decertify the class because the plaintiffs are not, in fact, similarly situated.