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7th Circuit rules on Rolls-Royce job-bias case

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A day after the nation’s highest court heard arguments on the largest female gender-discrimination case in history, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has delved into that same territory and upheld a federal judge’s decision denying class certification in a sex discrimination suit in which a group of female Rolls-Royce employees accused the manufacturer of paying women less than men for the same or similar work.

The 18-page decision came late Wednesday afternoon in the case of Sally A. Randall, et al. v. Rolls-Royce Corp., No.10-3446, delving into how far the federal class-certification rules can be stretched when questions exist about the adequacy of certain plaintiffs and potential class members.

U.S. Judge Sarah Evans Barker in the Southern District of Indiana last year denied a class-certification motion by Sally Randall and Rona Pepmeier, who asked the court to certify a class comprised of all women who’d been employed by Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis at certain pay levels since October 2004. The suit alleged the company had paid women less than men for the same or similar work, and perpetuated the pay disparity over time by failing to equitably adjust female workers' salaries. The January 2009 suit alleged both intentional and disparate impact pay discrimination and retaliatory acts, and violations of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act.

They filed the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), which offers slightly more relaxed requirements in proving class status than Rule 23(b)(3), which mandates notice for all potential class members. Randall and Pepmeier argued that the commonality requirement of the class-certification rule was met because Rolls-Royce had a company-wide policy of premising pay on prior base salaries carried forward from the past, but Judge Barker was skeptical of whether that so-called policy had any meaning or value in determining whether all the plaintiffs or potential class members shared similar facts.

Judge Barker also questioned whether there was a common element between all the named plaintiffs and potential class members.

The 7th Circuit affirmed Judge Barker’s denial of the plaintiffs' class-certification motion and determined that she had rightly granted summary judgment in the company’s favor. The appellate panel agreed with Judge Barker that the named plaintiffs here appear to be inadequate class representatives because of varying pay issues and even conflicts about their involvement in management decisions applying to those lower employees who could be class members.

Judge Richard Posner wrote for the panel that the proper approach in this case would have been for the plaintiffs to seek class certification under Rule 23(b)(3) — which requires full notice so they can opt out if they want to bring an independent suit for damages or other monetary relief. Plaintiffs should ask for injunctive as well as monetary relief, he wrote. Reversing the denial of class certification would actually jeopardize the ability of unnamed class members to obtain relief in individual suits or in a subsequent class action, according to the ruling.

“The plaintiffs argue that if only equitable relief is sought, a class action suit may be maintained under Rule 23(b)(2) even if the equitable relief is mainly monetary,” Judge Posner wrote. “We disagree. To read ‘injunctive’ in the rule to mean ‘equitable’ is to become mired in sticky questions of differentiating between ‘legal’ and ‘equitable’ actions – and such questions abound.”

In noting how this case illustrates a need to calculate back pay for all class members and that 500 separate hearings would likely be needed for that, Judge Posner also said, “The monetary tail would be wagging the injunction dog” and that it wouldn’t provide final injunctive relief as the plaintiffs are contending.

While this appellate ruling affirms the District judge, it may not end there as larger questions still exist about the scope of Rule 23(b)(2) as the 7th Circuit interpreted it here. That is the same question being explored by the Supreme Court of the United States, which on Tuesday heard arguments in the giant gender-discrimination suit of Walmart v. Dukes, No. 10-277. The case involves a nationwide class-action suit potentially encompassing hundreds of thousands of female Wal-Mart employees alleging gender discrimination, and the legal question is whether claims of monetary relief can be certified under 23(b)(2) and if so, under what circumstances.

In writing this Rolls-Royce ruling on the Indiana suit, Judge Posner pointed out that “the present case is not as big a stretch, but it is big enough” as it relates to how far Rule 23(b)(2) can be stretched.

No timeline stands for the nine justices to decide the Wal-Mart case, but they’ll likely issue a ruling by the time their current term concludes at the end of June.
 

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  • RUINED CAREERS
    Since this involves 500 women of Rolls-Royce, and there are probably all of the female employees being discriminated against there,I would think there is an obvious gender discrimination culture that not only affects the women's finances, but also ruins their trust in the male culture of this country to the point they lose their faith in mankind. Another lawsuit should be brought forth, based on the pain and suffering these women must be going through, as their careers are ruined and their lives are shattered.

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  1. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  2. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

  3. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  4. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

  5. Unlike the federal judge who refused to protect me, the Virginia State Bar gave me a hearing. After the hearing, the Virginia State Bar refused to discipline me. VSB said that attacking me with the court ADA coordinator had, " all the grace and charm of a drive-by shooting." One does wonder why the VSB was able to have a hearing and come to that conclusion, but the federal judge in Indiana slammed the door of the courthouse in my face.

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