September 20, 2019

Should You Join the Class Action Overtime Lawsuit Against Your Accounting Firm?

Wage and hour lawsuits against Big 4 firms have been part of our coverage since the launch of Going Concern. Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers has been big news in California and was the first case we covered. Lately, Pippins v. KPMG has been getting quite a bit of ink, thanks to a very proactive PR campaign by the firm representing the plaintiffs, Outten & Golden and Folkenflik & McGerity. This morning, we received two emails inquiring about the recent wage and hour lawsuit, In Re Deloitte & Touche LLP Overtime Litigation, telling us that notices asking Deloitte audit employees who were not CPAs during the "relevant time period," which is April 11, 2008 to the present. 

Here's an email from one of our Deloitte tipsters:  
Hey Caleb/Adrienne,
 
I received a letter in the mail this week with a consent to join form for my firm's overtime lawsuit.  I'm kind of torn about this because, on the one hand, if there's money to be won, I'm technically entitled to some of it and would love to have it.  On the other hand, although I know they can't legally do anything to me for joining, I'm nervous about my firm knowing of my involvement, especially since I'm in a small office.  I love my job, don't want to stick it to my firm by any means, especially don't want to see them lose this and then take the newfound overtime expenses out of our raise/bonus pool come September, and overall just wouldn't see myself as someone who would "sue my firm" ….except then there's that whole potential for free money thing.  And when I say free money, I'm not discounting the fact that I worked all those hours… I just mean free in the sense that I never expected to receive compensation for those over 40 in the first place.
 
Long story short, I need to hear some discussion on this.  Pros from the angry staffies being angry (like they do so well), and cons from the seasoned managers wagging their fingers at the kids and calling them entitled and stupid (like they do so well).  
So allow me to kick off this discussion with the caveat that NOTHING included in this post, including any statements by legal professionals, is to be considered to be legal advice because I'm a hack and my discussion with any real-life lawyers (yes, like the hot ones on TV) was simply that, a discussion and it doesn't pertain to any of you specifically. That and, good God, who would take legal advice from an accounting blog? 
 
Now, then. Simply put: opt in if you want to. Let me explain. After speaking with a smarter-than-average lawyer friend of GC and taking a few minutes to employ some common sense, there is very little downside to opting in to the lawsuit? Why? First, an anecdotal example. Our lawyer friend explained that once upon a time, (s)he worked at the Gap and received an opt-in notice because Gap had been required employees to purchase Gap clothes to wear while working, which was, apparently, unfair. (S)he opted-in and when the Gap settled, what did (s)he receive? A $300 Gap card. Did anyone harass him/her? No. Was there any employment repercussions? No. DID ANYTHING OF ANY CONSEQUENCE WHATSOEVER HAPPEN? $300 in Gap clothes is better than a sharp stick in the eye, I guess. 
 
Granted, The Gap is not a Big 4 firm (although their logo had a brief relevance) but our attorney friend surmised that should the plaintiffs receive a settlement, it would result in a "de minimis sum" for each individual participant. Maybe $1,000. Maybe $200. Maybe $0. Sorry to disappoint, but it won't be life-changing money. 
 
As for concerns about how others within your firm will view you, well, if you don't tell anyone you're opting into the suit, chances are, no one will know that you're opting in suit. Do you really think Deloitte, KPMG, or PwC (or any firm for that matter) is going to go on a witch hunt to discover just who exactly will be on the receiving end of any settlement? The answer is, "no." For starters, this type of action would be akin to an admission of guilt. Secondly, who has the time to go through the records to pull the names of the thousands of participants? Thirdly, if word got out (and it would get out) that the any firm was employing some kind of covert operation to identify the participants in these suits, how do you think that would go over in these pages and other media outlets? That's a PR nightmare no firm wants. You need more proof? By all accounts, PwC is going to fight this to the death in California. Their dollars are far better spent on building the best defense possible than they are researching those who are figuratively sitting across from them in court. 
 
So, if you want to opt in, opt in. You'll be back to being a miserable auditor in no time and IF any money every lands in your lap, it won't be anything to write home about. If the idea of suing your employer while still working for said employer still grosses you out, then ignore it and move on. You won't miss out on much. 

Consent to Join

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