Litigation Trends Analysis
In-Person Jury Trials Are Set to Resume in 2021
The pandemic has long prevented courts from conducting jury trials. Even when such trials briefly resumed in some parts of the country last year, things did not run smoothly. Just a few months ago, courts in Hartford, Connecticut; San Diego, California; and Norfolk, Virginia had to delay jury selection because too few people responded to jury summonses. Even as 2020 was ending, the virus led to judges in New York, Indiana, Colorado, and Missouri declaring mistrials because people connected to the trials tested positive for COVID-19 or developed symptoms.
As we enter February 2021, courts continue to grapple with how to move forward with jury trials. Some courts are going virtual. For example, in Seattle jurors are deliberating in the first remote patent jury trial. Kane County, Illinois is set to hold its first remote jury trial in a civil case next month. On the other hand, in many other places around the country – including Cook County, Illinois – in-person jury trials are scheduled to resume. Cook County officials are working toward a February 16 start date, although that plan has already been called into question. In Wayne County, Michigan, evidentiary and other in-person hearings are set to resume the week of February 16, with jury trials resuming on March 15. While these near-term start dates provide some hope for courts dealing with massive backlogs of cases, it of course remains to be seen whether in-person jury trials will actually resume anytime soon.
COVID-19-related wrongful termination lawsuits increasing
As 2021 gets underway, employers are being sued with more and more wrongful termination lawsuits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In states like California, New York, and Michigan, terminated employees are bringing actions alleging discrimination, retaliation, and disability leave violations. While these wrongful termination lawsuits are increasing, allegations of workplace safety are slowing down relatively, indicating employers are doing a better job controlling workplace compliance with federal, state, and local guidance. Generally, around 75% of COVID-19 employment lawsuits have involved wrongful termination allegations. While the wrongful termination lawsuits are usually single-plaintiff, leave-related and similar wage and hour-type lawsuits tend to be class action. As a whole, non-class action lawsuits have doubled since Labor Day 2020.