• September 27, 2017

Update (September 27, 2017): Some class actions are obviously appropriate because the plaintiffs’ class is uniform and each class member’s claimed damages are insufficient to justify an individual lawsuit.

Some class actions are obviously inappropriate; there are individualized and specific issues for individual class members claims and class members have a realistic opportunity to vindicate their claims individually.

Some class actions fall in the middle so that whether the class action procedure is justified can be an extremely difficult question to answer wisely.

The case described below involves an employer’s time-keeping system which, if the computer keyboard and mouse are idle for more than two minutes, clocks out the worker. Assuming this were the end of the story, one can see how many workers might be deprived of pay for real work (as when they end a team meeting or do any of a number of work activities that do not call for the use of the computer keyboard or mouse).

According to the employer, iQor, however, this is very much NOT the end of the story. iQor argues that many workers log work in different ways, there is the possibility of manual overrides, decided at the managerial level and, for the class members, there are many different managers and varying practices with regard to the manual entry of time.

Plaintiffs, on the other hand, predictably highlight that forcing each one of them to refile “over 3,500 individual lawsuits in district courts across the country would be the antithesis of efficiency.”

It is hard to argue with that.

In a sense, the class action procedure might be considered a form of rough justice, a determination NOT to get mired in the details of thousands of claims, but, rather, an effort to approximate a collective remedy in the name of efficiency and practicality. Shoots v. Iqor and cases like it highlight the enormously difficult question of when “rough justice” crosses the line and is more accurately injustice.

Original post (October 23, 2015) (under the headline: Shoots v. iQor Class Certification & Digital Serfdom)

A serf is a worker who has to stay in one area” says the Wikipedia entry on serfdom, a political/economic system in the middle ages in which agricultural workers, primarily, were treated as if they were shackled to particular patches of earth. If a piece of land were sold, the serfs who worked the land were sold along with it.

On the one hand, this seems inhumane (as well as economically inefficient). On the other hand, most of us are “worker(s) who have to stay in one area” to some degree or another. Farmers, in particular, are rooted in their soil but they are not alone.

Ultimately, though, the modern understanding of “serfdom” relates it closely to slavery. Over time, society has determined the institution to have been dehumanizing and morally repugnant.

We have come such a long way! Haven’t we?

Of course we have.

And yet, there are aspects of the 21st century work-place that might, in years to come, strike future citizens as dehumanizing and/or soul-crushing. These thoughts come to mind in connection with the lawsuit of Paris Shoots, and other call center workers, against their employer (or former employer) iQor, pending in the U.S. District Court (D. Minn.).

640px-BigBrotherThe allegations in iQor relate to whether iQor fairly paid its call center employees for all of the time that they worked. For some time, iQor tracked employees’ computer use; if their computers were idle for more than two minutes, the workers were deemed to be not working during that “idle time” and they would not be compensated. Then iQor set up something in the nature of a “review process” where one could object to a finding of non-compensable idle time and have one’s compensable time re-calculated. (But, of course, workers presumably have better things to do than fighting for the few minutes of wrongly withheld pay per day even if, over time and over the span of the entire work-force, iQor was ripping off workers big time. Also of course, one has to imagine that iQor did not treasure the few workers who doggedly pursued their full wages (if any did) or go out of their way to reward them for their tenacity.)

U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Nelson (D. Minn.) conditionally certified a class in the case this week in a 64-page decision that also rejected iQor’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and made several adjustments to the Class Notice procedure.

Congratulations to Minneapolis plaintiffs’ employment class action lawyers, from Nichols Kaster, PLLC and Teske Micko Katz Kitzer & Rochel, PLLP.

Even putting aside whether iQor owes its call center employees money improperly withheld for supposed “idle time,” are our employment laws (or any of our laws) keeping up with the implications and repercussions of the digital shackles placing all of us under unrelenting and ever-increasing surveillance and control? What proposals are out there? What proposals should be out there?

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

And, finally, I notice that one named plaintiff allegedly “worked approximately 85.22 hours, for which he was paid for only 79.14 hours,” a difference of 6.08 hours.  So it seems that “uncompensated idle time” in some cases resulted in serious under-compensation and not a buck or two here and there.  And how much freedom of action is possible when workers’ time is tracked to the one-hundredth of an hour?


Bill Griffith's "Zippy the Pinhead"

Bill Griffith’s “Zippy the Pinhead”

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