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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. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

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  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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