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Home > Employment Law Update January 2023

Employment Law Update January 2023

What is the state of the employment world as we transition from 2022 to 2023?  Looking back, a study showed that employment discrimination class-action settlements soared in 2022.  Meanwhile, COVID-related litigation shows us that the impact of the pandemic will continue in the courts with vigor in 2023.  Read all about it below.

Workplace Bias Class-Actions Soared in 2022, according to Report

According to a report just issued by Duane Morris, LLP, the value of employment discrimination class-action lawsuits soared in 2022, nearly doubling the total from 2021.  The findings of the report show that 2022’s figure of $597 million in total discrimination class-action settlements dramatically outpaced previous years, with the last five years’ figures being: 

2017 – $294 million;

2018 – $216 million;

2019 – $139 million;

2020 – $423 million; and,

2021 – $323 million.  

The report looked at class-action settlements across three employment class areas – discrimination, wage and hour, and Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) claims.  Wage and hour and ERISA class-action settlements were down from 2021, but otherwise fairly consistent with the preceding years.  The results of the report can certainly serve as a signal to employers to take a close look at workplace policies – and particularly Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) compliance – to ensure they do not find themselves part of this trend in 2023.

Workers Compensation Award issued against SEPTA for COVID death may be Harbinger for Future Successful Claims

The family of a former Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) mechanic who died of COVID was recently awarded workers’ compensation benefits by a Philadelphia Judge, Todd Seelig.  To prevail on such a claim, the worker needs convincing proof that an injury or illness occurred in the course of their job.  That proof has been considered elusive given the pervasive nature of COVID.  However, this judge was convinced after the worker’s family was able to present evidence that the worker had exposures to multiple infected employees in close quarters, and SEPTA that did not permit masking and failed to perform contact tracing.  While the decision of the judge is only persuasive precedent and therefore not binding on other cases, the case may serve as a roadmap for future workers compensation claims as well as personal injury litigation.  

Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office survives COVID Religious Liberty Suit

The Philadelphia District Attorney was successful in requesting a federal court to dismiss a former prosecutor Rachel Spivak’s lawsuit alleging that she was fired for failure to receive a COVID-19 vaccine based upon her religious objections.  At the time of the exemption request, the DA’s office permitted exemptions to its mandatory vaccination policy based only upon health and safety concerns over vaccination, however the office offered no exemption on religious grounds.  The prosecutor sought an exemption based upon religious beliefs surrounding injecting undisclosed ingredients into her body.  Significantly, notwithstanding the lack of a religious exemption policy, the DA’s office had offered the prosecutor the option of working remotely if she was unwilling to be vaccinated, however she refused that opportunity.  Ultimately, the judge concluded that “[t]here is absolutely nothing in the record suggesting that anti-religious bias figured into [the DA’s] decisions.  To the contrary, Ms. Spivak refused the DAO’s offer of an accommodation, which would have allowed her to keep her job and remain unvaccinated (in accordance with her religious beliefs).”  The case is Rachel Spivack v. City of Philadelphia, et al., case number 2:22-cv-01438, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.


Jeff Burke is an attorney at MacElree Harvey, Ltd., working in the firm’s Employment and Litigation practice groups. Jeff counsels businesses and individuals on employment practices and policies, executive compensation, employee hiring and separation issues, non-competition and other restrictive covenants, wage and hour disputes, and other employment-related matters. Jeff represents businesses and individuals in employment litigation such as employment contract disputes, workforce classification audits, and discrimination claims based upon age, sex, race, religion, disability, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment.  Jeff also practices in commercial litigation as well as counsels business on commercial contract matters.