Comcast Ruling Benefits Employers, Experts Agree

According to this Reuters story, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled in favor of Comcast Corp. in an antitrust case over how much it charged cable TV subscribers in the case of Comcast v. Behrend.

In a 5-4 decision, the court said a group of cable TV subscribers in the Philadelphia area who accused Comcast of overcharging them as part of an effort to monopolize the market could not sue as a group.

While the case itself did not touch on workplace issues per se, attorney Raul Zermeno of Fisher & Phillips says the ruling will likely reduce employers’ exposure to class-action litigation launched by employees, and that the decision will “significantly impact” the future of employment-related class-action lawsuits nationwide:

The Court held that a plaintiff must introduce evidentiary proof to show that the case is susceptible to awarding damages on a class-wide basis, before class-action status is granted. Class-action classification is the most important decision in a class action because it puts pressure on defendants to settle regardless of the merits of the case.  This decision will most likely limit the number of class actions filed and impact class-action litigation.

Meanwhile, Gerald Maatman and Rebecca Bjork, attorneys with national employment firm Seyfarth Shaw, say Comcast v. Behrend  addresses whether a class may be certified without resolving whether a plaintiff has introduced admissible evidence, including expert testimony, to show a case is susceptible to awarding damages class-wide — a key question left open by 2011’s Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes case.

(Maatman and Bjork also wrote on the ruling in greater detail in a post from Seyfarth’s Workplace Class Action Blog here.)

The Seyfarth Shaw attorneys say the court clarified that, to certify a Rule 23(b)(3) class, the plaintiffs will need to establish that their expert analysis has adequately explained how the data show that a classwide determination of damages is possible.

They also note that the Comcast decision ultimately means that plaintiffs, generally speaking, will have less leverage to pressure defendants to enter into settlements in many types of class-action lawsuits, including workplace class actions, that rely heavily on statistical and other kinds of expert evidence.

In short, as the Supreme Court has focused attention on class-action law, as it will continue to do this term in the area of class arbitration, it has brought into perspective the importance of defendants’ efforts to fully engage in the ‘battle of the experts,’ as success in the certification arena may very well depend upon it.