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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. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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