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Class-Action News

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Cy Pres Awards

Velez v. Novartis (Sanford Wittels & Heisler)

Workplace Fairness was a recipient of a cy pres award in Velez v. Novartis. Velez is the largest gender discrimination case to ever go to trial, and ended in the jury finding on behalf of a class of 5,600 female sales representatives in their gender pay and promotion and pregnancy discrimination claims. The jury also awarded 12 testifying current and former Novartis sales reps $3.36 million in compensatory damages and the class of 5,600 women an additional $250 million in punitive damages. In addition, the May 2010 verdict from the jury meant that the remaining 5,600 women in the class were also entitled to additional awards of backpay and to seek compensatory damage awards up to $300,000 each. In July 2010, Class Counsel Sanford Wittels & Heisler announced a settlement on behalf of all female sales reps to present, increasing the class size to approximately 6,200 women in total. On November 30, 2010 Judge Colleen McMahon of the United States District Court of the Eastern District of New York, approved the final settlement agreement valued at $175 million. $22.5M earmarked for broad-reaching systemic reforms is believed to be among the largest non-monetary settlements ever reached. These systemic reforms will address: (1) the way Novartis promotes women into management; (2) the way Novartis evaluates its employees; (3) the way Novartis compensates its employees; (4) the way Novartis investigates and responds to complaints of discrimination and unfair treatment. $60M is set aside for back pay awards -- 100% of the value of back pay damages to the class. Approximately $40M is set aside for compensatory damages, with each class member having the right to seek payments up to the full $300,000 allowed under law. The remainder of the monetary fund provides service payments to class representatives and class members who helped prosecute the case, attorneys’ fees and case expenses, the administrative costs of implementing the settlement terms, and cy pres awards such as the one received by Workplace Fairness. The presiding judge noted that SWH achieved “extraordinary” and “one of a kind” results for the class in both the trial and the later settlement.

Caffarelli & Siegel, Lichten & Liss-Riordan

Marc Siegel and Brad Manewith of Caffarelli & Siegel and Shannon Liss-Riordan and Hillary Schwab of Lichten & Liss-Riordan worked on behalf of a class of plaintiffs in a wage case and provided a cy pres award to Workplace Fairness. Due to confidentiality restrictions, we are unable to disclose more about the case, but are very grateful for their generosity.

California Meal and Rest Break Class Action (Cohelan, Khoury & Singer)

In January 2009, Workplace Fairness received nearly $16,000 in funds directed by Diana Khoury and Michael Singer of Cohelan, Khoury & Singer, in San Diego, California. The law firm represented workers in a class action against a retailer, alleging that the employer failed to provide rest and meal breaks or to compensate workers in lieu of their breaks. After distribution of the confidential settlement to eligible workers, $15,932.68 in unclaimed funds was given to Workplace Fairness. This marks the third distribution of cy pres funds by Cohelan, Khoury & Singer to Workplace Fairness.

Leonard v. Southtec (Sanford, Wittels & Heisler LLP and Jerry Gonzalez, PLC)

David Sanford of Sanford, Wittels & Heisler LLP and Jerry Gonzalez, PLC successfully prosecuted a class action case against L&W Engineering and Southtec, Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Case No. 3:04-0072. The allegations were that Southtec, a subsidiary of L&W Engineering, systematically excluded African Americans and Hispanics from consideration for employment and promotion. After much litigation, the parties were able to mediate the case and the defendants entered into a consent decree and agreed to pay a confidential amount in settlement of all claims. 143 claims for wrongful discrimination based upon race or ethnic origin were paid out, and a remainder reserved for a cy pres award to nonprofit organizations which advocate for the rights of employees. Workplace Fairness received an award in the amount of $32,568.41.

Martin v. Grange Mutual Insurance Co. (Dworken & Bernstein Co., L.P.A.)

Dworken & Bernstein Co., L.P.A., and Grange Insurance announce that an unclaimed portion of a consumer class action lawsuit has been donated to Workplace Fairness, a national organization educating workers about their legal rights. The 1994 consumer class action suit [Martin v. Grange Mutual Insurance Co.] alleged that consumers were incorrectly charged for uninsured motorist insurance.

Kosen v. American Express Financial Advisors (Miller-O'Brien, LLP; Sprenger & Lang, PLLC)

In this gender discrimination class action suit, female financial advisors alleged that male advisors received preferential treatment in assignments and promotions. After distribution of the settlement fund, the unclaimed amount of $191,000 was distributed to three charities, including Workplace Fairness, to further employment opportunities for women and to protect their rights in the workplace.

Elephant Bar Wage & Hour Class Action (Cohelan & Khoury)

In a California wage and hour class action settlement against Elephant Bar Restaurants for unpaid, off-the-clock overtime wages and rest and meal period violations, distributed but un-cashed checks were donated to Workplace Fairness. The unclaimed amount of $4310.46 went to Workplace Fairness at the case's conclusion, as negotiated by Cohelan and Khoury.

Ladegaard, et al v. Hard Rock Concrete Cutters (Jac A. Cotiguala and Associates)

In an Il. Min. Wage/FLSA class action for unpaid work hours, the settlement provided that any unaccounted-for residue in the escrow would go to Workplace Fairness. The escrow earned interest with slightly over $5,000 residue going to Workplace Fairness at its conclusion. After the defendants understood that no money would go back to them or to a charity of their choice they agreed to the money going to Workplace Fairness.

FLSA Overtime Case (Nichols, Kastor & Anderson)

In an FLSA overtime collective action which settled for $6 million, a separate $25,000 contingent fund was created to settle cases not part of the collective action. The terms of the contingent fund settlement allowed the leftover funds to be granted to a 501(c)(3) organization of the plaintiff counsel's choosing. As a result, $20,000 was donated to Workplace Fairness at the conclusion of the case, as directed by Nichols, Kaster and Anderson.

Ohio Public Official (Freking & Betz)

An opportunity to generate funds for Workplace Fairness arose in the context of a sexual harassment case against a public official. After the public official confessed judgment, the only substantial assets that remained in the public official's control were his accumulated campaign contributions that became the property of the local Republican Party but could be designated by the former public official to be distributed to a charity of his choice. Since it became clear that the public official probably could not satisfy a judgment for attorneys' fees in full, a solution arose by requiring the former public official to donate funds to Workplace Fairness out of his campaign war chest, in the amount of $20,000.

Worthington v. CDW (Freking & Betz)

This cy pres opportunity arose in the context of a class action under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act), where a class was certified for an alleged WARN violation when the company failed to provide an unconditional 60 days of pay after closing a plant in Wilmington, Ohio. Instead, the company paid employees 56 days of pay, but in exchange for a general release of claims. The class included some management officials who did not want to participate in the ultimate settlement, and a few other individuals who simply could not be located. Thus, the cy pres fund was established and the unclaimed funds were split between Workplace Fairness and a non-profit organization designated by the employer, in the amount of $7788.49.

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