For low-wage workers who suffer “wage theft” – employers illegally withholding portions of their wages – the dollars missing from their paychecks violate existing law and significantly impact the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Despite this dire societal problem, the Supreme Court continues “closing the courtroom doors” in two ways: allowing employers to force workers out of court and into private arbitration; and prohibiting aggregate claims. Such trends, in combination, silence wage theft, leaving many claims unheard while unscrupulous employers gain direct advantage.
This Article explains how various procedural rulings have combined to prevent meaningful redress for wage theft. Because of high transaction costs and relatively low potential damages, low-wage workers are likely to recover their lost wages only if they band together with similarly-situated workers in an aggregate lawsuit. However, collective action is under attack: AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the latest Supreme Court case to approve of mandatory arbitration clauses, allowed a corporation to impose “agreements” mandating individual arbitration and barring class actions.
This Article brings new insights into the widening blind spot the Supreme Court has for the impact procedural rules have on the substantive rights of low-wage workers. Moreover, it touches upon a greater trend in American jurisprudence of courts shutting out plaintiffs, especially those unlikely to afford legal representation. By drawing attention to the unjust effects of facially neutral rules on low-wage workers, this Article contributes to the national conversation on how Supreme Court precedent limiting judicial access affects society’s most vulnerable.