Measuring the Value of Class and Collective Action Employment Settlements: A Preliminary Assessment

27 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2008 Last revised: 15 Jul 2023

Date Written: January 23, 2009


This paper represents an initial effort to test, quantitatively, whether the class or collective action is a necessary vehicle for resolving employment disputes because typical claims are not valuable enough for individuals to pursue them on their own. Because most class actions ultimately settle, this study begins the process of evaluating the hypothesis by calculating the potential recoveries individual members of class actions are slated to receive in class action settlements as a comparison point for awards obtained in individual employment arbitration. Examining public data on employment class or collective action settlements, we find that with the exception perhaps of certain off the clock wage-hour and ERISA claims, the average individual potential recovery found was not an insignificant amount, though still generally smaller than the average employment arbitration awards. This result calls into question the negative value justification for the claimed superiority of class action litigation.

Much work needs to be done to determine if these potential recoveries would be obtainable in individual litigation or arbitration, or whether there is something special about the class action vehicle that makes possible such potential recoveries. We would also need to account for a selection bias in class action cases - that plaintiff lawyers may under-report less favorable settlements and are highly selective in picking cases for class action treatment. If so, the characteristics of individual and class claims may differ in systematic ways. In the interim, our data shows that potential individual recoveries for many types of employment disputes are valuable enough to place in question the arguments that these are negative value cases that will be brought forward, if at all, only through the class action vehicle.

Keywords: class actions, employment law, labor markets, discrimination, empirical analysis

JEL Classification: D74, J41, J52, J71, J78, K31, K4, M5

Suggested Citation

Estreicher, Samuel and Yost, Kristina, Measuring the Value of Class and Collective Action Employment Settlements: A Preliminary Assessment (January 23, 2009). NYU Law and Economics Research Paper No. 08-06, 3rd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Papers, NYU Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 08-03, Available at SSRN: or

Samuel Estreicher (Contact Author)

New York University Law School ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
(212) 998-6226 (Phone)
(212) 995-4341 (Fax)

Kristina Yost

Jones Day ( email )

222 E. 41 St.
New York, NY 10017
United States

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