Do American companies have a problem with paying their employees? A growing number of workers seem to think so.
Collective action lawsuits alleging wage and hour violations have risen 400 percent in the last 11 years, according to a recent post at CNNMoney. In 2011, there were more than 7,000 such lawsuits filed in federal court -- a huge increase since the turn of the century.
These lawuits involve workers who claim they didn't get paid the full amount for all the hours they worked -- either because they were improperly listed as ineligible for overtime, or because they simply never got the money for the work they put in.
Claims of this kind have become incredibly pervasive in recent years. Lawyers cited in a 2007 Bloomberg story on wage and hour lawsuits estimated that companies may be paying out more than a billion dollars a year to resolve these cases.
It's hard to think of a major company that hasn't had at least one wage and hour suit brought against it lately. In early May, to name one recent example, Taco Bell was hit with a lawsuit alleging that employees were often forced to work unpaid hours -- just the latest in a series of similar accusations the chain has faced.
In general, the weak economy and sluggish labor market have reduced the amount of leverage employees have in their relationship with their managers -- meaning it's been especially easy in recent years for bosses to demand ever more of workers while paying them the same amount as before.
Here are some companies that have been accused of withholding worker pay:
In May 2012, a former shift manager at Taco Bell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/03/taco-bell-sued-overtime_n_1474482.html" target="_hplink">sued the company</a>, claiming that employees were regularly forced to work unpaid overtime. Employees have successfully sued Taco Bell <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/04/09/us/taco-bell-failed-to-pay-overtime-a-jury-finds.html" target="_hplink">at least twice</a> in the past for <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2001/mar/13/business/fi-36944" target="_hplink">similar reasons</a>.
In 2002, Starbucks agreed to pay <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2002/apr/20/business/fi-starbucks20" target="_hplink">up to $18 million</a> to settle claims that it had denied its workers overtime pay. In 2008, the coffee chain <a href="http://www.seattlepi.com/business/article/Starbucks-settles-suit-over-overtime-pay-1265295.php" target="_hplink">settled another case</a> in which an assistant manager made similar claims.
In 2009, a federal jury ruled that Wal-Mart had <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-533818.html" target="_hplink">denied overtime pay to hundreds of workers</a> over a five-year period.
Bank of America
In 2010, workers at Bank of America sued the company, alleging that they were <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/06/05/bankofamerica-overtime-lawsuit-idUSN0516532920100605" target="_hplink">forced to work without meal and rest breaks</a> and did not receive all the overtime pay they were due.
In 2011, Oracle agreed to pay $35 million to settle claims that it denied overtime pay to <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/11/BU2N1LTS42.DTL" target="_hplink">more than 1,700 employees</a>.
Earlier this year, IBM paid <a href="http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/technology/ibm-settles-overtime-lawsuit-for-65-million-461354/" target="_hplink">a $65 million settlement</a> to 32,000 workers who said they'd been forced to work unpaid overtime.
In 2009, three former employees of Fremantle Media, which produces the show "American idol," sued the company, alleging that workers were <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2009/mar/20/business/fi-cotown-wga20" target="_hplink">sometimes forced to put in 20-hour days</a> without overtime pay.
In 2010, the restaurant chain Hooters was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/us/11sfhooters.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">hit with multiple lawsuits</a> alleging that employees had not been given adequate rest and meal breaks and that they had not been paid, or not been paid enough, for special promotional events.
Last year, Groupon was implicated in <a href="http://consumerist.com/2011/09/more-groupon-employees-sue-over-unpaid-overtime.html" target="_hplink">multiple lawsuits from employees</a> who said the company failed to pay them for overtime work.
In April of this year, Boston Market agreed to pay <a href="http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2012/04/20/boston-market-to-pay-3-million-to-settle-workers-overtime-pay/" target="_hplink">a $3 million settlement</a> in response to claims that it withheld the proper level of overtime pay from its workers.