We have long reported about that modern marvel of well-intentioned legislation gone awry known as the Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) – and we also have noted that in practice, PAGA stands for Pretty-much All Goes to the Attorneys.  A recently published report (the “Report”) from some of the former leaders of the California Department of Industrial Relations and Cal/OSHA suggests we were right.

Originally enacted in 2004 to remedy an ostensible “strain on government resources,” PAGA enables an “aggrieved employee” to file representative actions on behalf of fellow employees to recover civil penalties from an employer for alleged Labor Code violations.  Three-quarters of the recovery is supposed to go to the State of California—not the “aggrieved employees.”  However, certain “bounty hunter” plaintiffs’ lawyers routinely use PAGA to obtain astronomical settlements for Labor Code violations that caused little (and often no) actual injury to any current or former employees but that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to defend.

The Report analyzes the findings of several public records requests and indicates a few of PAGA’s uncomfortable realities.  First, although an employer’s average settlement payout in cases that are pending before the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”) is less than half (41%) the amount paid to settle a lawyer-litigated PAGA case, employees receive nearly twice as much money in the former as compared to the latter cases because lawyers collect at least a third of the overall payout.  Litigated PAGA actions also drag on more than seven months longer than those filed with the LWDA – subjecting employees and employers alike to lengthy litigation-induced limbo.

Also, according to the Report, the State of California—which, again, collects 75% of any recovery—receives an average of $27,000 less from PAGA actions prosecuted by lawyers in court than those pending before the LWDA.  And employers, for their part, pay an average of $44,000 more in litigation fees and fees paid to settlement administrators in court actions.

The Report also compares the “settlement data” from cases pending before the LWDA with data from those cases that were litigated in court by lawyers.


Cases Pending Before
the LWDA

Cases Filed in Court
by Attorneys

Average Overall Cost to Employer (including settlement, attorney’s fees and costs)



Average Award Paid by Employer



Average Penalty Paid to State



Average Award Received per Employee



Average Case Duration

485 days

707 days


In short, PAGA actions filed in court result in far less favorable outcomes for employees, employers, and the state – so, exactly who does benefit from the current system?  The Report notes that plaintiff-side “[a]ttorneys who file PAGA cases with a court are compensated with fees that represent 33% or more of the workers’ total recovery, averaging to a total of more than $405,000 per case.”  Case closed.

The Report’s recommendations to fix this obviously out-of-whack statute include using the existing PAGA fund to expand and streamline the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s ability to utilize its case resolution procedures.  Funding aside, the Report noted the State should utilize an “expedited administrative process” featuring less “unnecessary bureaucracy” to quickly deliver case results to parties – thus enabling the prompt resolution of non-compliant activity while also ensuring compliant employers aren’t forced to pay a king’s ransom to fend off thirsty fee-seeking plaintiffs’ lawyers.

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Photo of Tony Oncidi Tony Oncidi

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including…

Anthony J. Oncidi is the co-chair of the Labor & Employment Law Department and heads the West Coast Labor & Employment group in the firm’s Los Angeles office.

Tony represents employers and management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law, including litigation and preventive counseling, wage and hour matters, including class actions, wrongful termination, employee discipline, Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, executive employment contract disputes, sexual harassment training and investigations, workplace violence, drug testing and privacy issues, Sarbanes-Oxley claims and employee raiding and trade secret protection. A substantial portion of Tony’s practice involves the defense of employers in large class actions, employment discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination litigation in state and federal court as well as arbitration proceedings, including FINRA matters.

Tony is recognized as a leading lawyer by such highly respected publications and organizations as the Los Angeles Daily JournalThe Hollywood Reporter, and Chambers USA, which gives him the highest possible rating (“Band 1”) for Labor & Employment.  According to Chambers USA, clients say Tony is “brilliant at what he does… He is even keeled, has a high emotional IQ, is a great legal writer and orator, and never gives up.” Other clients report:  “Tony has an outstanding reputation” and he is “smart, cost effective and appropriately aggressive.” Tony is hailed as “outstanding,” particularly for his “ability to merge top-shelf lawyerly advice with pragmatic business acumen.” He is highly respected in the industry, with other commentators lauding him as a “phenomenal strategist” and “one of the top employment litigators in the country.”

“Tony is the author of the treatise titled Employment Discrimination Depositions (Juris Pub’g 2020; www.jurispub.com), co-author of Proskauer on Privacy (PLI 2020), and, since 1990, has been a regular columnist for the official publication of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of California and the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

Tony has been a featured guest on Fox 11 News and CBS News in Los Angeles. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading national media outlets such as The National Law JournalBloomberg News, The New York Times, and Newsweek and Time magazines. Tony is a frequent speaker on employment law topics for large and small groups of employers and their counsel, including the Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”), PIHRA, the National CLE Conference, National Business Institute, the Employment Round Table of Southern California (Board Member), the Council on Education in Management, the Institute for Corporate Counsel, the State Bar of California, the California Continuing Education of the Bar Program and the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills Bar Associations. He has testified as an expert witness regarding wage and hour issues as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and has served as a faculty member of the National Employment Law Institute. He has served as an arbitrator in an employment discrimination matter.

Tony is an appointed Hearing Examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission Board of Rights and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law and a guest lecturer at USC Law School and a guest lecturer at UCLA Law School.