Why California’s well-intentioned PAGA labor law needs reform

Eight billion dollars. That’s the amount of money trial attorneys have leveraged from California employers over the last six years in Private Attorneys General Act settlements. 

Employees rarely see that money, though. They generally take home a minimum amount while attorneys keep hundreds of thousands of dollars for themselves.

The Labor Commissioner’s office agrees. In a 2019-20 budget disclosure, the agency noted that “the substantial majority of proposed private court settlements in PAGA cases reviewed by the (PAGA) Unit fell short of protecting the interests of the state and workers.” 

So why does the California Legislature continue to defend this law?

In simple terms, PAGA is an 18-year-old law that allows aggrieved workers to file any labor code violation claims on behalf of a group of employees – even if no one has been harmed. Since it is not classified as a class action, they avoid class certification rules.

However well-intentioned, PAGA has evolved into an easy way for trial lawyers to shakedown businesses at the expense of workers and their employers.