Third Circuit Breathes New Life Into EEOC Enforcement Lawsuit

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Elisabeth Bassani, and Danielle Dwyer

Duane Morris Takeaways:  On February 1, 2024, in EEOC v. Center One, LLC, Nos. 22-2943 & 22-2944 (3d Cir. Feb. 1, 2024), the Third Circuit held that a District Court erred when it granted summary judgment for an employer and dismissed a case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a Jewish employee who claimed he was forced to quit after his employer denied him time off for religious holidays.  The decision is a reminder of employers’ obligations to reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs, practices or observances.

Background Of The Case

The EEOC, on behalf of Demetrius Ford, alleged that Ford’s employer, Center One, discriminated against him based on his religion and constructively discharged him in violation of Title VII because it refused to accommodate his request for time off for high holidays.  Specifically, the EEOC asserted that Center One assigned Ford “demeritorious attendance points” because he missed work to observe Rosh Hashanah and subsequently refused to permit him time off for future high holidays without an “official” letter from his congregation attesting to his need to be absent.  Id. at 5. Center One also scheduled a meeting with Ford to discuss his attendance issues on Yom Kippur, despite acknowledging it knew it was a high holy day in Judaism.  Ford submitted an email exchange with a leader from a congregation in response to Center One’s request for documentation, but Center One told Ford that it needed something more “official.”  Id. Ford eventually tendered his resignation, explaining that he was not able to obtain an “official clergy letter.”  Id. at 6.

The District Court granted summary judgment to Center One, holding that a mere accrual of attendance points for missing work did not constitute an adverse employment action, and that Ford was not constructively discharged.

The Third Circuit’s Ruling

On appeal, the Third Circuit unanimously vacated the District Court’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings. It held that the EEOC and Ford presented enough evidence for a jury to decide if Ford was constructively discharged.  Notably, the Third Circuit agreed with the District Court in finding that accruing attendance points — without any other changes to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment — did not constitute an adverse employment action.

But, because there was no dispute that Center One required Ford to work on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and that Center One asked Ford for an “official” letter from his congregation attesting to his need to take off on high holidays, the Third Circuit opined that a jury could find that Center One’s conduct created an intolerable work environment.  It specifically noted that a requirement for “official clergy verification was at odds with the EEOC’s Guidance on religious discrimination, as well as our precedent.” Id. at 8. The Third Circuit also cautioned that “[t]he doctrine of constructive discharge does not require an employee who is seeking religious accommodation to either violate the tenets of his faith or suffer the indignity and emotional discomfort of awaiting his inevitable termination.” Id.

Implications For Employers

The ruling in EEOC v. Center One LLC reminds employers that they need to reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances.  Such accommodations are required unless an employer can show that the accommodation would create an undue hardship.  The decison also cautions employers that while they can request documentation in support of an accommodation, they cannot require an official letter from a clergy member, spiritual leader, or other congregant.

Thank You For A Successful Duane Morris Class Action Review – 2024 Book Launch Event!

Thank you to all our clients who attended the in-person book launch of the Duane Morris Class Action Review in Philadelphia last week, as well as our nationwide audience who participated via Zoom.

In case you missed it, watch a video of the live presentation below, featuring Duane Morris partners and editors of the Review, Jerry Maatman and Jennifer Riley, with Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Keith Sonderling.

Please also view pictures from the in person Book Launch event below. We would love to see you at the event in 2025!

Duane Morris Chairman and CEO Matt Taylor delivers opening remarks.
Duane Morris Chairman and CEO Matt Taylor delivers opening remarks.
Duane Morris Vice Chairman Tom Servodidio introduces the panel.
Duane Morris Vice Chairman Tom Servodidio introduces the panel.
Introducing the Duane Morris Class Action Review - 2024.
Introducing the Duane Morris Class Action Review – 2024.
Review editors and authors Jerry Maatman and Jennifer Riley, guest speaker Commissioner Keith Sonderling of the EEOC.
Review editors and authors Jerry Maatman and Jennifer Riley, guest speaker Commissioner Keith Sonderling of the EEOC.
Review author and editor Jerry Maatman.
Review author and editor Jerry Maatman.
Commissioner Keith Sonderling of the EEOC.
Commissioner Keith Sonderling of the EEOC.
Book launch reception.
Book launch reception.

California Federal Court Denies Class Certification Of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Claims

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Nathan K. Norimoto, Nick Baltaxe

Duane Morris Takeaways: On January 28, 2024, in Chavez, et al. v. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, No. 22-CV-06119, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14785 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 28, 2024), Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied class certification for a failure to accommodate religious beliefs claim premised on a workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandate.  Specifically, the Court held that the putative class was not certifiable as the class failed to meet Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance and superiority requirements. The decision is a good roadmap for employers dealing with the continuing fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Background Of The Case

Defendant San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (“BART”) implemented a workplace policy mandating that all employees needed a COVID-19 vaccination by December 21, 2021.  Id. at 2.  In response, BART received 188 requests for religious exemption and accommodation.  Id.  While some employees did not complete the exemption application process, 148 employees submitted applications to BART, noting varying belief systems such as “Christianity,” “Catholic,” “Islamism,” or even personal belief systems such as being “anti tyranny [sic].”  Id. at 3.  A panel of BART employees then reviewed each application individually and conducted further interviews with the applicants before deciding to grant or deny the request.  Id. at 5.

Of the 148 completed applications, BART granted 70 religious exemptions and denied 78.  Id.  Those who were denied were given the option to either comply with the mandate, retire, voluntarily resign, or be terminated.  Id. In total, 36 employees either retired, resigned, or were terminated.  Id.  BART considered accommodation for the 70 employees who were granted exemptions, but ultimately did not provide any accommodations as they could not “identify a reasonable accommodation that did not place an undue hardship on the District.”  Id. at 6.  Of the 70 applicants who were denied accommodation, 37 resigned, retired, or were terminated.  Id.  BART additionally received 25 requests for medical exemptions, and eight medical exemptions were granted, with those employees being placed on unpaid leave that only ended upon vaccination.  Id. 

Plaintiff Gabriel Chavez and 16 other named plaintiffs filed a class action complaint alleging that BART’s policy violated Title VII, the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  Id. at 7.  Plaintiff sought to certify a class pursuant to Rule 23(b)(3) composed of “all employees employed by BART who (1) have been ordered to submit to a COVID-19 vaccination, (2) have sincerely held religious beliefs which prevent them from taking the vaccine, (3) have submitted a request for a religious exemption, and (4) were denied a religious accommodation.”  Id.  Plaintiff also proposed a second, alternative class consisting of all employees employed by BART who “(1) have been ordered to submit to a COVID-19 vaccination, (2) have sincerely held religious beliefs which prevent them from taking the vaccine, (3) have submitted a request for religious exemption and religious accommodation, and (4) whose request for a religious exemption were denied.”  Id. 

The Court’s Ruling

The Court examined the class certification requirements under Rule 23(b)(3), which provide that a plaintiff must establish “that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy.”  Id. at *8.  The Court held that Plaintiffs’ proposed class, as well as the proposed alternative class, did not satisfy the predominance and superiority requirements, and denied Plaintiffs’ certification motion.  Id. at 23.

First, the Court examined the requirement of common issues predominating over any questions affecting only individual members.  Id. at 11-20.  With respect to Plaintiffs’ Title VII and FEHA claims, the Court noted that whether or not an individual had a bona fide religious belief – a requirement for both claims – there were too many individual systems of belief to examine.  Id. at 12.  The Court held that nearly every named plaintiffs’ application contained a distinct system of belief, and any examination of whether or not a request rested on a “bona fide religious belief” would necessarily require an individual inquiry into each plaintiffs’ belief system.  Id.  The Court expressed doubt that the various written or interview responses of one plaintiff will have any evidentiary impact on the bona fide religious belief of the class as a whole.  Id. 

Next, the Court held that BART’s undue hardship showing required an individualized inquiry of factual issues.  Id.  The Court noted that the potential class members are drawn from a large diversity of jobs – over a dozen unique jobs – and that accommodations reasonably considered for a “train conductor’s request bear no relation to the job functions and reasonable accommodations BART must consider when evaluating the exemption request of a manager of technology programs, a fire protection worker, or a police officer, or a senior operations supervisor liaison.”  Id. 13-14.  Further, the Court found that the inclusion of some union employees in the putative class also required individualized inquiries as the union’s contracted-for-rights “grant impacted workers certain rights, such as seniority, that BART is not required to transgress upon.”  Id. at 14.  Moreover, the Court indicated that a significant portion of the class would not be impacted by an “undue hardship” analysis, as 78 of the proposed members were not even considered for accommodation.   Id. at 15.  The Court did acknowledge that some aspects of the undue hardship consideration may be more amenable to common proof, but in light of the putative class’s “job diversity,” it reasoned that any undue hardship analysis “cannot be understood without an interrogation of individual employees’ job duties.”  Id.  at 16.

As to the Free Exercise of Religion Claims, the Court determined that those claims could not satisfy the predominance requirement.  In doing so, it noted that “the sincerity and religious nature of plaintiffs’ belief is . . . an individualized issue.”  Id. at 20.  The Court found that each of the plaintiffs cited a “myriad” of religious and of personal experiences, along with refusal due to “CDC VARS data and concerns regarding health consequences, the Organization of American States Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Senate Bill 1383 and Senate Bill 1159, among others.”  Id.  The Court concluded that the need to determine whether plaintiffs have met the bona fide religious belief threshold required individualized inquiries, which ultimately foreclosed class certification.  Id.

Finally, the Court found that the putative class did not satisfy Rule 23(b)(3)’s superiority requirement.  The Court reasoned that class members have “significant interest in the individual control of their claims.”  Id. at 21-22.  As an example, it noted that two potential class members have already brought individual actions against BART, and that seventeen other employees had filed suit in a third case.  Id. at 22. The Court held that “[p]utative class members’ demonstrated interest in bringing and controlling these various litigations further reflects the significant monetary and emotional stakes at issue, and counsels against certification.”  Id.  In closing, the Court noted that given “the wide range of individual issues and proof” there will also likely be difficulties in managing the class action.  Id.

Implications For Employers

The ruling in Chavez, et al. v. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District confirms that the need for individualized inquiries is a strong impediment to certifying a class action premised on COVID-19 vaccine accommodation theories of liability. This ruling stresses the specific importance of these individualized inquiries in the context of religious accommodations, which have recently been the subject of significant litigation after many employers implemented COVID-19 vaccine mandates in the workplace

New York State Court Refuses To Dismiss Claims Alleging The NYDOL Closed Unpaid Wage Investigations Due To Improper Agency Rulemaking

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Katelynn Gray, and Gregory S. Slotnick

Duane Morris Takeaways: On January 23, 2024, in Chen et al. v. Reardon, Index No. 908146-23, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York (Albany County), a judge denied a motion to dismiss filed by the New York Department of Labor (NYDOL) seeking dismissal of a lawsuit claiming the agency improperly closed wage theft investigations for home care aides by way of inappropriate rulemaking under New York’s State Administrative Procedures Act (NYSAPA).  Specifically, in evaluating the NYDOL’s motion and giving the workers the benefit of every possible inference, the court held the NYDOL may have improperly engaged in formal rulemaking without abiding by all required prerequisites (such as public notice) in shutting down its investigations of the workers’ unpaid wage claims due to collective bargaining agreements that included mandatory arbitration.  The judge concluded that a “reasonable view of the facts stated” describes the NYDOL’s application of a “fixed, general principle” of dismissing every complaint that was subject to mandatory arbitration (i.e., a NYDOL rule), rather than “ad hoc decisions” evaluating the individual facts and circumstances of each claim.  Id. at 9. 

The decision highlights a state court’s willingness to scrutinize a state agency’s “informal” broad interpretations of its own investigation procedures under state law, and ultimately provides allegedly aggrieved employees with reasonable means to challenge the agency’s actions.

Case Background

Five home care aides who provided live-in services to elderly and disabled patients claim they typically worked 24-hour shifts without ever receiving five hours of uninterrupted sleep or three hours of meal breaks.  Id. at 2The workers alleged that they were never paid for more than 13 hours of work for any such 24-hour shifts despite not receiving the required sleeping and meal break periods in alleged violation of the New York Labor Law (NYLL) and its “13-hour rule.”  Id.  After working these shifts for some time, the workers each filed their own complaint with the NYDOL, claiming their compensation structure violated the NYLL.

The NYDOL initially accepted the complaints and began investigating.  However, when the NYDOL determined that the workers were all subject to mandatory arbitration through a collective bargaining agreement with their respective unions, who had filed grievances on their behalf, the NYDOL terminated each investigation.  The NYDOL sent each worker a complaint closing letter stating “we understand other means are available for a resolution of your claims.”  One NYDOL investigator explained to a worker that the DOL closed the case “following the advice of our counsel’s office.  The [CBA] supersedes our authority in this case.  There is no getting around it.  The same is true in each case we have closed on this basis.”  The NYDOL also issued a press release around the same time stating that it “may accept…cases [involving alleged violations of the 13-hour rule] if an employee is not covered by an arbitration clause.”  Id.

In August 2023, the workers filed an Article 78 petition against the NYDOL, seeking that the NYDOL reopen the closed investigations of their claims.  Id. at 2-3The workers argued the NYDOL’s policy of closing the investigations was pursuant to a “rule” within the meaning of the NYSAPA and that the NYDOL failed to submit a notice of proposed rulemaking as required before adopting such a rule.  They also claimed the NYDOL’s reliance on that rule before closing their cases was an error of law, that the NYDOL’s jurisdiction is not limited by private arbitration agreements such that termination of their investigations was an abuse of the NYDOL’s discretion.  Id.

The NYDOL moved to dismiss the petition and claimed it must be dismissed because it fails to establish a right of mandamus relief and fails to state a claim under the NYSAPA.  Id.

The Court’s Decision

The Court determined that in considering a motion to dismiss, the petition must be given a liberal construction, the petitioners must be afforded every possible favorable inference, and the motion should only be granted if there is no “reasonable view of the facts” that could entitle petitioners to relief.  Id. at 4

The NYDOL argued that it has discretionary authority to investigate employer-employee controversies, and that the Article 78 petition could not be used to compel it to engage in a discretionary act.  Id.  In addressing these positions, the Court found that if a petitioner prevails under either a mandamus to compel or a mandamus to review under New York law, the Court “may grant the petitioner the relief to which he is entitled.”  Id. at 5The Court further found that under appropriate circumstances, such relief could include an order that directs specified action by the respondent.  Id.  It then held that because the workers asserted various causes of action under state law and alleged that the NYDOL’s decisions to close their complaints were arbitrary and capricious, affected by errors of law, and abuses of discretion, a judgment in favor of the workers could appropriately require the NYDOL to revisit their complaints.  Id. at 6-7

As for the workers’ claims under the NYSAPA and the NYDOL’s potentially improper rulemaking, the NYDOL argued that its determination to decline to investigate the individual petitioners’ claims was specific to the facts and circumstances of the complaints and subsequent investigations, and not of “general applicability that implements or applies law.”  Id.  The Court opined that the NYSAPA requires the NYDOL to comply with certain procedural requirements before adopting any “rule” and that if the NYDOL engaged in formal rulemaking but did not comply with the procedural requirements of the NYSAPA, that regulatory action must be annulled.  Id. at 6-7

The NYDOL conceded that it did not follow the rulemaking procedures laid out in the NYSAPA, and the only question the Court needed to decide was whether the workers adequately pled that NYDOL’s decision to terminate its investigations was pursuant to a rule within the meaning of the NYSAPA.  Id. at 7It noted that a “rule” under the NYSAPA is a fixed, general principle applied without consideration of other relevant facts and circumstances, as distinguished from ad hoc decision-making based on individual facts and circumstances.  Id. 

The Court reasoned that “rules” direct what action should be taken regardless of individual circumstances and apply to future courses of conduct.  It held that a “policy” dictating specific results without regards to other relevant circumstances is subject to the NYSAPA’s rulemaking requirements.  Id. at 8

In this case, the Court found that the workers had alleged that the NYDOL dismissed each of their complaints because their unions had entered into collective bargaining agreements with their employers that called for mandatory arbitration of their claims.  Id. at 8-9The workers also alleged that the NYDOL’s practice or policy of dismissing complaints on this basis was rigidly applied without regard to aides’ individualized circumstances or any mitigating factors.  Id.  The NYDOL investigator’s statement to one worker that the NYDOL was required to terminate all investigations of the workers due the collective bargaining agreements and that “there is no getting around it” was further evidence in support of the workers’ petition that the NYDOL engaged in improper rulemaking.  Id. at 9

The Court ultimately gave the workers’ petition a liberal construction, accepted its pleaded facts as true, and gave them the benefit of every possible inference, denying the NYDOL’s motion to dismiss the petition.  Id.  The Court determined that the workers’ petition sufficiently alleged the NYDOL’s application of a fixed, general principle of dismissing every complaint that was subject to a mandatory arbitration agreement as opposed to an “ad hoc decision” based on individual facts and circumstances.  Id.

Implications For Businesses

The Chen decision illustrates that under appropriate circumstances, judges will not hesitate to question broadly-applicable “policies” of state agencies akin to “rules” under state law.  As evidenced in this case, such scrutiny includes denying state agency motions to dismiss claims brought by aggrieved workers who feel an agency failed to follow its own procedural requirements in closing investigations into their claims.  It also serves as a timely reminder for all employers of the ever-present possibility that state agencies may still investigate workers’ claims despite the existence and application of perfectly valid mandatory arbitration agreements.   Employers should always remain cautious any time a state agency closes an investigation before completion due to the possibility such closure may later be found to have been improper by a court.  Employer skepticism of broadly applicable state agency policies concerning workers’ claims that results in uniform outcomes is also warranted, especially when an agency confirms such position in press releases!

Virginia Federal Court Authorizes $2.4 Million Award For ERISA Severance Plan Benefits In WARN Act Class Action

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Jennifer A. Riley, and Kathryn Brown

Duane Morris Takeaways: On January 16 and 17, 2024, in Messer v. Bristol Compressors International, LLC, No. 1:18-CV-00040 (W.D. Va.), on remand from a Fourth Circuit decision, Judge James P. Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued an opinion and order entering judgment in the amount of $2,407,471.90 for severance pay benefits owed under an ERISA employee benefits plan based on violations of the 60-day notice requirement of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act), 29 U.S.C. § 2102(a)(1). The multi-million dollar ruling stems from a 2018 WARN-covered “plant closing” and follows an earlier award on November 23, 2021 of $1.39 million to certain class members for damages including back pay and interest owed pursuant to the WARN Act for the same notice violation underlying the recent ruling.

The decision highlights the extremely technical nature and high stakes of WARN Act litigation in the class action context.

Case Background

On July 31, 2018, Bristol Compressors International (BCI) notified employees that it would close its manufacturing facility in Bristol, Virginia, and their employment would terminate on or before September 30, 2018. BCI implemented several rounds of terminations over the next three and a half months, beyond the originally anticipated date of September 30, 2018 for the final terminations. However, BCI did not issue additional notice under the WARN to those whose employment ended after September 30, 2018.  The manufacturing facility ultimately closed on November 16, 2018.

On October 19, 2018, a group of former employees sued BCI- under the WARN Act.  The plaintiffs alleged that the company failed to provide 60 days’ notice of their terminations in accordance with the specific requirements of the WARN Act.

On June 20, 2019, the Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for certification of three sub-classes of former employees terminated due to the plant closing under Rules 23(a) and 23(b)(3). Sub-class One included employees involuntarily terminated between July 31, 2018 and August 31, 2018. Sub-class Two included employees involuntarily terminated after August 31, 2018 who signed a stay bonus agreement that included an express waiver of claims under the WARN Act. Sub-class Three included employees involuntarily terminated after August 31, 2018 who had not signed a stay bonus agreement.

Following a bench trial, the Court in 2020 granted summary judgment to BCI on the plaintiffs’ claim for benefits owed under a company severance pay plan. The Court found that BCI validly terminated its severance pay plan before the employment terminations.  In a separate 2020 opinion, the Court dismissed upon summary judgment the WARN Act claims of four class members whose employment ended on October 19, 2018. The Court reasoned that BCI’s July 31, 2018 notification was adequate to prepare them for their later job losses. The plaintiffs appealed those prior rulings to the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit’s Ruling

On April 3, 2023, the Fourth Circuit, in an unpublished opinion, reversed and remanded parts of the 2020 rulings.  Messer v. Bristol Compressors International, LLC, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 7826 (4th Cir. Apr. 3, 2023) (per curiam).

The Fourth Circuit reversed the denial of severance pay benefits to the class, concluding the company did not terminate the severance pay plan in accordance with the ERISA’s requirements for modifying or terminating an ERISA-governed benefits plan.  As a result, the severance pay plan was in effect when the employment terminations occurred.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision upholding the release of claims under the WARN Act to members of Sub-class Two. However, because the release of claims in the stay bonus agreements those class members signed explicitly carved out claims for vested benefits under the company’s “written benefit plans,” members of Sub-class Two did not waive their claims for severance pay benefits owed to them under the ERISA-governed employee benefit plan.

The Fourth Circuit also vacated the grant of summary judgment to BCI on the WARN Act claims of the four plaintiffs whose employment ended on October 19, 2018.  The Fourth Circuit pointed to the regulation under the WARN Act providing that, if an employer postpones a covered plant closure for 60 days or more, additional 60 days’ notice under the WARN Act is owed to affected employees.  See 20 C.F.R. § 639.10. Because the company issued no additional notice to those four individuals after July 31, 2018, but terminated their employment after September 30, 2018, the Fourth Circuit opined that a WARN Act violation was established.

The District Court’s Decision

On remand, the Court granted the plaintiffs’ unopposed motion for summary judgment on the two issues on which the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. Consistent with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, the Court held that all class members were entitled to severance pay benefits under the severance pay plan, plus interest, and the four plaintiffs whose employment ended on October 19, 2018 were in addition owed back pay and prejudgment interest for a 60-day period.

On January 17, 2014, the Court ordered the case closed, with leave granted to class counsel to file a supplemental motion for attorneys’ fees and costs within 30 days.

Implications For Employers

The Messer case is illustrative of the many decisions in recent years in which plaintiffs have recovered multi-million dollar judgments following class certification of WARN Act claims. Employers should remain vigilant to the WARN Act, and the potential exposure to 60 days’ worth of back pay, lost benefits and prejudgment interest in the event of violations, well before implementing any mass layoff or plant closure that may trigger its strict notification requirements.

Trend #5 – U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Continue To Impact The Class Action Landscape

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

Duane Morris Takeaway: As the ultimate referee of law, the U.S. Supreme Court traditionally has defined the playing field for class action litigation and, through its rulings, has impacted the class action landscape. The past year did not buck that trend. On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., et al. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 600 U.S. 181 (2023), that two colleges and universities that considered race as a factor in the admissions process violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ruling is fueling controversy along with a wave of claims that is likely to expand.

Check out the video below to see Duane Morris partner Jennifer Riley discuss the impact of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the class action landscape in 2023, and what is coming in 2024.

Trend #5 – U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Continue To Impact The Class Action Landscape

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision

Students for Fair Admissions, an advocacy group, brought two lawsuits alleging that the use of race as a factor in admissions by Harvard and the University of North Carolina, respectively, violated Title VI and the Equal Protective Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

After reviewing the language of the Fourteenth Amendment (no State shall “deny to any person . . . the equal protection of the laws”), the Supreme Court began its analysis by recapping its early jurisprudence, including its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483, 493 (1954), wherein it held that the right to a public education “must be made available to all on equal terms.” Students, 600 U.S. at 201, 204. The Supreme Court noted that these decisions, and others like them, reflect the broad “core purpose” of the Equal Protection Clause: “[D]o[ing] away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.” Id. at 206.

The Supreme Court explained that, accordingly, any exceptions to the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee must survive a daunting two-step examination known as “strict scrutiny,” which asks, first, whether the racial classification is used to “further compelling governmental interests” and, second, whether the government’s use of race is “narrowly tailored” or “necessary” to achieve that interest. Id. at 206-07. In Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 325 (2003), the Supreme Court endorsed the view that “student body diversity is a compelling state interest” but insisted on limits in how universities consider race. In particular, the Supreme Court sought to guard against two dangers: (i) the risk that the use of race will devolve into “illegitimate . . . stereotyp[ing]” and (ii) the risk that race will be used as a negative to discriminate against those racial groups that are not the beneficiaries of the race-based preference. To manage its concerns, Grutter imposed a third limit on race-based admissions programs. “At some point,” the Supreme Court held, “they must end.” Students, 600 U.S. at 212.

In Students for Fair Admissions, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the defendants’ race-conscious admissions systems failed each factor and, therefore, ran afoul of the Equal Protection Clause. As an initial matter, the U.S. Supreme Court found that defendants failed to operate their race-based admissions programs in a manner that is “sufficiently measurable to permit judicial [review].” Id. at 214-17. Second, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the race-based admissions systems failed to comply with the twin commands of the Equal Protection Clause that race may never be used as a “negative” and that it may not operate as a stereotype. Id. at 218-219. The U.S. Supreme Court explained that “college admissions are zero-sum. A benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former group at the expense of the latter.” Id. Third, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the admissions programs lack a “logical end point” as Grutter required. Id. at 221. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the admissions programs “cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause.” Id. at 230.

  1. The Ruling’s Early Impact

On July 19, 2023, in Ultima Services Corp., et al. v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, No. 20-CV-00041, 2023 WL 4633481 (E.D. Tenn. July 19, 2023), a district court extended Students for Fair Admissions to the government contracting context and held that the Small Business Association’s use of racial preferences to award government contracts likewise violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act instructs the Small Business Administration (the SBA) to contract with other agencies “to furnish articles, equipment, supplies, services, or materials to the Government,” 15 U.S.C. § 637(a)(1)(A), and to “arrange for the performance of such procurement contracts by [subcontracting with] socially and economically disadvantaged small business concerns,” 15 U.S.C. § 637(a)(1)(B). The SBA adopted a regulation creating a “rebuttable presumption” that “Black Americans; Hispanic Americans; Native Americans; Asian Pacific Americans [; and] Subcontinent Asian Americans” are “socially disadvantaged.” 13 C.F.R. § 124.103(b)(1).

The district court held that the § 8(a) program does not satisfy strict scrutiny. First, the Administration did not assert a compelling interest. The district court reasoned that while the government “has a compelling interest in remediating specific, identified instances of past discrimination,” the program lacked any such stated goals. Id. at *11. Second, the district court held that, even if the SBA had a compelling interest in remediating specific past discrimination, the § 8(a) program was not narrowly tailored to serve that alleged compelling interest. Id. at *14. The § 8(a) program had no logical end point or termination date, was both underinclusive and overinclusive relative to its “imprecise” racial categories, and failed to review race-neutral alternatives.

The district court concluded that the defendants’ use of the rebuttable presumption violated Ultima’s Fifth Amendment right to equal protection, and it enjoined defendants from using the rebuttable presumption of social disadvantage in administering the program. Id. at *18.

Although the district court in Ultima limited its holding to the use of a “rebuttable presumption” in administration of § 8(a) programs, in addressing the requirement that racially conscious government programs must have a “logical end point,” it cited Students for Fair Admissions and noted that “its reasoning is not limited to just [college admissions programs].” Id. at *15 n.8. Thus, the first opinion considering the impact of Students for Fair Admissions extended it beyond college admissions, reflecting the decision’s potential to fuel claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII, and other anti-discrimination statutes.

  1. Implications For Class Action Litigation

The Supreme Court’s decision has also caused private sector employers to question whether the ruling impacts their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. While politicians moved quickly to stake out positions on the issue, the plaintiffs’ class action bar and advocacy groups moved to take advantage of the uncertainty to line up a deluge of claims.

In the wake of Students for Fair Admissions, the Office for Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (OFCCP), the office responsible for overseeing affirmative action programs for federal contractors, promptly updated its website to state that its affirmative action programs are separate from those that educational institutions implemented to increase racial diversity in their student bodies. The OFCCP stated that “[t]here continue to be lawful and appropriate ways to foster equitable and inclusive work environments and recruit qualified workers of all backgrounds.”

Likewise, in response to the decision, EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows, a Democratic appointee, promptly issued a statement declaring that the decision “does not address employer efforts to foster diverse and inclusive workforces or to engage the talents of all qualified workers, regardless of their background. It remains lawful for employers to implement diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs that seek to ensure workers of all backgrounds are afforded equal opportunity in the workplace.”

By contrast, Andrea Lucas, a Republican-appointed EEOC Commissioner, emphasized a different sentiment in a Fox News interview regarding the impact of Students for Fair Admissions: “I think this [decision] is going to be a wake-up call for employers. . . . Even though many lawyers don’t use the word affirmative action, it’s rampant today. . . . Pretty much everywhere there is a ton of pressure . . . across corporate America to take race-conscious . . . actions in employment law. That’s been illegal and it is still illegal.” As to potential challenges, she added: “I have noticed an increasing number of challenges to corporate DEI programs and I would expect that this decision is going to shine even more of a spotlight about how out of alignment some of those programs are. . . I expect that you are going to have a rising amount of challenges.”

Consistent with predictions, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, Republican Attorneys General from 13 states and Senator Tom Common of Arkansas sent a letter to the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies stating: “[T]oday’s major companies adopt explicitly . . . discriminatory practices [including], among other things, explicit racial quotas and preferences in hiring, recruiting, retention, promotion, and advancement.” They urged the companies to cease unlawful hiring practices. In response, 21 Democratic Attorneys General sent a letter condemning the Republican Attorneys General’s “attempt at intimidation”: “While we agree with our colleagues that “companies that engage in racial discrimination should and will face serious legal consequences…[w]e write to reassure you that corporate efforts to recruit diverse workforces and create inclusive work environments are legal and reduce corporate risk for claims of discrimination.”

On September 19, 2023, Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking to end race-conscious admissions at the U.S. Military Academy. . See Students for Fair Admissions v. U.S. Military Academy at West Point, et al., No. 7:23 Civ. 08262 (S.D.N.Y.). The group alleged that the admissions program at West Point, which takes race into account in its admissions process for future Army officers, is unconstitutional and unnecessary for a service that relies on soldiers following orders regardless of skin color.

The group filed a similar action against the U.S. Naval Academy on October 5, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. See Students for Fair Admissions v. U.S. Naval Academy, et al., No. 23-CV-2699 (D. Md.). The group seeks to prevent the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland from taking race into account in the selection of an entering class of midshipmen. After filing suit, the group promptly sought a preliminary injunction.

On December 20, 2023, a federal judge denied a request to temporarily bar the Naval Academy from using race in its admissions process while the parties litigate the case. Students for Fair Admissions v. U.S. Naval Academy, No. 23-CV-2699, 2023 WL 8806668, at *1 (D. Md. Dec. 20, 2023) (noting that plaintiff’s requested injunctive relief “would undoubtedly alter the status quo,” and, at this stage, the parties have not developed a factual record from which the court can determine whether the Naval Academy’s admissions practices will survive strict scrutiny).

On October 4, 2023, another advocacy group, the America First Legal Foundation asked the EEOC to launch an investigation into Salesforce’s allegedly “unlawful employment practices” claiming that, through its programs promoting diversity and equality, it engaged in unlawful race-based and sex-based discrimination. The group has lodged similar accusations against than a dozen other companies alleging that they maintain programs that aim to increase workplace representation of women and minorities at the expense of White, heterosexual men. The American Alliance for Equal Rights filed lawsuits against additional companies, including law firms, claiming that their grants and programs excluded individuals based on their race.

Finally, on December 19, 2023, a Wisconsin attorney represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed suit alleging that a clerkship program maintained by the Wisconsin State Bar is unconstitutional because its eligibility requirements and selection processes discriminate among students based on various protected traits, primarily race. See Suhr v. Dietrich, et al., Case No. 23-CV-01697 (E.D. Wis.). He claims that members of Bar leadership are violating his First Amendment rights because they are using his mandatory dues as a practicing attorney to fund the program.

As these questions continue to percolate, and courts start to weave a patchwork quilt of rulings, such uncertainty is likely to fuel class action filings and settlements in the workplace class action space at an increasing rate. Companies should expect to see more governmental enforcement activity, litigation focused on alleged “reverse” discrimination, and claims challenging DEI initiatives.

It Is Almost Here — The Duane Morris Class Action Review For 2024

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

Duane Morris Takeaways:  As we kick off 2024, we are pleased to announce the publication of the second annual edition of the Duane Morris Class Action Review this coming week. It is a one-of-its-kind publication analyzing class action trends, decisions, and settlements in all areas impacting corporations, including the substantive areas of antitrust, appeals, the Class Action Fairness Act, civil rights, consumer fraud, data breaches, EEOC-Initiated and government enforcement litigation, discrimination, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, wage & hour class and collective actions, labor, privacy, procedural issues, product liability and mass torts, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, securities fraud, state court class actions, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The Review also highlights key rulings on attorneys’ fee awards in class actions, motions granting and denying sanctions in class actions, the top class action settlements across all areas of law, and primers on both the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act and the California Private Attorney General Act. Finally, the Review provides insight as to what companies and corporate counsel can expect to see in 2024.

This past year Employment Practices Liability Consultant Magazine (EPLiC) called the DMCAR “the Bible” on class action litigation and an essential desk reference for business executives, corporate counsel, and human resources professionals.” It said that “The Review must-have resource for in-depth analysis of class actions in general and workplace litigation in particular.” EPLiC continued that “The Duane Morris Class Action Review analyzes class action trends, decisions, and settlements in all areas impacting Corporate America,” and “provides insight as to what companies and corporate counsel can expect . . . in terms of filings by the plaintiffs’ class action bar.”

The 2024 Review analyzes rulings from all state and federal courts in 23 areas of law. It is designed as a reader-friendly research tool that is easily accessible in hard copy and e-Book formats. Class action rulings from throughout the year are analyzed and organized into 23 chapters and 6 appendices for ease of analysis and reference.

Check back here in the coming week for your free download of the publication.

The Duane Morris Class Action Defense Blog’s 200th Post Of 2023!

Duane Morris Takeaways: 2023 was a busy year for the Duane Morris Class Action Defense blog – it just recorded its 200th post of the year!!!!

Since our kick-off post, our data analytics show there have been over 34,000 views to blog posts, with thousands of our loyal subscribers reading about class action litigation developments. There are many highlights from this year’s posts, but we wanted to provide just a few for you here. Click on the links below to see all the hot trends in class action litigation!

Overview Of The 200 Posts In 2023

We launched the first edition of the Duane Morris Class Action Review, which is a one-of-its-kind publication analyzing class action trends, decisions, and settlements in all areas impacting Corporate America. The Review has been prominently featured in the media and is a must-have for all human resources professionals, business leaders, and corporate counsel.

We will be publishing the 2024 Edition of the Review in January.

We also published five mini-books focused on specialized areas of law in class action litigation and on EEOC-Initiated litigation. Here are the links to our blog posts announcing the EEOC-Initiated Litigation Review, the Privacy Class Action Review, the Wage & Hour Class And Collective Action Review, the Private Attorneys General Act Reviewand the Consumer Fraud Class Action Review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also kicked off the Duane Morris Class Action Weekly Wire podcast, in which we talk about hot class action rulings and developments in real time and in relatable ways for our viewers. Tune in on Fridays for new episodes, and subscribe to our show from your preferred podcast platform: SpotifyAmazon MusicApple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, the Samsung Podcasts app, Podcast IndexTune InListen NotesiHeartRadioDeezerYouTube or our RSS feed.

Below are the top five most viewed blog posts in 2023 – which had over 10,000 combined views!

  1. Revised Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act: Implications For Staffing Agencies And Their Customers
  2. It Is Here — The Duane Morris Class Action Review – 2023
  3. Colorado Supreme Court Applies Litigation Privilege To Attorney’s Allegedly Defamatory Statements About Class Action Defendant
  4. Delaware Says Corporate Officers Are Now Subject To A Duty Of Oversight In The Workplace Harassment Context
  5. Implementation Of Equal Pay And Benefits Requirement Of The Illinois Day & Temporary Labor Services Act Likely Postponed Until April 2024

Thank you loyal followers for making the Class Action Defense blog your pick for class action litigation related information, trends, and analysis. We truly appreciate it! Please keep coming back, we promise to keep the content fresh!

The Class Action Weekly Wire – Episode 42: Uphill Battlegrounds: The 2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes Report

Duane Morris Takeaway: This week’s episode of the Class Action Weekly Wire features Duane Morris partners Jerry Maatman and Alex Karasik with their discussion of the American Tort Reform Association’s 2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes Report and what it signifies for corporate defendants in the coming year.

Check out today’s episode and subscribe to our show from your preferred podcast platform: Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, the Samsung Podcasts app, Podcast Index, Tune In, Listen Notes, iHeartRadio, Deezer, YouTube or our RSS feed.

Episode Transcript

Jerry Maatman: Thank you for being here. I’m Jerry Maatman of Duane Morris, and welcome to our regular weekly Friday podcast, the Class Action Weekly Wire. I’m joined by my partner, Alex Karasik, who’s going to talk about the recent American Tort Reform Association Judicial Hellholes report.

Alex Karasik: Thank you, Jerry. Very happy to be here.

Jerry: Alex, we followed this report over the last decade. It’s always published in the second week of December, and it’s purpose is to identify jurisdictions, venues where corporate defendants have a difficult time defending themselves, either due to liberal judges, liberal discovery or class certification rules, or juries that tend to favor plaintiffs over defendants. What did you find interesting with this year’s Judicial Hellholes report?

Alex: Great question, Jerry. This is the first year ever that the ATRA ranked two jurisdictions at the top of the list, Georgia and Pennsylvania, and these are two very interesting states, and that major corporations do business in both of these states quite frequently. In fact, most major corporations in America have some sort of operation in each.

In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas have proven to be two of the most challenging courts for defendants. In 2022, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania eliminated the state’s venue rule for medical liability litigation which opened up the flood gates for personal injury lawyers to file medical liability claims in courts that they view as favorable. Pennsylvania also demonstrated there’s some eyebrow raising gigantic verdicts to plaintiffs, including a billion dollar reward against Mitsubishi in a product liability case. There have also been some problematic punitive damages rulings which can again lead to the plaintiffs’ counsel filing more and more in these courts. So Pennsylvania is definitely one of the eye popping states, especially being at the top of this list.

Georgia, which is the defending champion from 2022 report, made this list largely in part due to its massive $1.7 billion punitive damages award in a products liability case containing ethically questionable events and alleged bias court orders. The report noted that not much has changed in Georgia in 2023, and the courts are awarding massive verdicts and issuing liability expanding decisions left and right. So for employers who have business operations in Pennsylvania and Georgia, even though they might not traditionally think of these as bad courts to be in they definitely need to be paying attention to the huge verdicts that are coming out of those locales.

Jerry: I thought the inclusion of Georgia and Pennsylvania were quite interesting. Obviously, in our class action practice those are known as two epicenters where plaintiffs’ lawyers are apt to file cases, and most corporate defendants are doing business in those major jurisdictions. I know, Alex, that you practice on a nationwide basis and tend to go to those epicenters. What were some of the other jurisdictions that rounded out the top 10 this year in the ATRA’s Judicial Hellholes report?

Alex: The first noticeable jurisdiction that I saw on there was right here in our home turf Jerry, in Cook County, Illinois, in Chicago. You and I and our team routinely practices in biometric privacy defense actions here in cases brought under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, or the BIPA. and a few years ago, after the Illinois Supreme Court issued a ruling about no injury being required to proceed with these lawsuits and saying technical violations are enough. The plaintiffs’ bar has been particularly zealous in pursuing these BIPA class actions, and Cook County seems to be the home of those cases.

#3: Beyond Cook County and beyond Illinois, predictably California is on this list. California is a regular on this report. In California of course, the Private Attorneys General Act, or PAGA, litigation has resulted in a huge flow of lawsuits against employers. Also Prop 65 lawsuits, and just the overall volume of cases in California, including environmental and ESG cases, are also noteworthy. It’s not a surprise that it’s on this list.

#4: Another state that we routinely see on this list is New York. Most recently New York has some no injury consumer class action lawsuits and some massive verdicts that have caught the attention of the ATRA.

#5: South Carolina, which has had a robust asbestos litigation docket.

#6: Lansing, Michigan, particularly due to liability expanding decisions by the Michigan Supreme Court and some pro-plaintiff rulings out there.

#7: Louisiana – lots of insurance claim fraud litigation as well as some coastal litigation there. Louisiana is another one to keep an eye on.

#8: St. Louis, Missouri. Some interesting verdicts coming out there, including verdicts in the nuclear energy space.

So lots of different courts around the country as we see this and even some landlocked states in the middle of the country. So it’s very interesting to see where these courts are emerging as tough places for employers to be.

Jerry: I’ve always thought that class action litigation is a little bit like real estate – location, location, location is everything – and this report confirms anecdotal information that plaintiffs’ bar seeks favorable jurisdictions in areas where judges, juries, or the case laws aligned to make their cases certification friendly.

The American Tort Reform Association also characterized several jurisdictions as what it calls being on a ‘watch list.’ Are there some other jurisdictions that corporate counsel should be aware of and look to in 2024 as sometimes being problematic in terms of where the plaintiffs’ bar files more cases?

Alex: Yeah, Jerry, one of the new jurisdictions on the watch list that I thought was particularly surprising is Kentucky. The ATRA noted that Kentucky, which is again a newcomer to this list, had some issues with lawyers resorting to unique measures to secure wins, and the mention of Kentucky on here is somewhat of a surprise given that it’s not the typical courts we see – such as California and New York. New Jersey has a powerful trial bar, and New Jersey is increasingly becoming a place where employers need to pay attention if they get sued there, and even Texas, which is, you know, oftentimes thought to be an employer-friendly jurisdiction courts within Texas. But now the Court of Appeals in the Fifth District and the ATRA has opined that certain other courts in Texas are starting to become more pro-plaintiff, more product liability in more expansion of verdicts there. So we’re keeping an eye on Texas too, even though it typically tends to be an employer-friendly state for various state and federal jurisdictions.

But despite the gloom and doom, there are some jurisdictions that are improving according to the ATRA, are at least improving in terms of the prospects of employers being able to succeed in these places. For example, the New Hampshire and Delaware Supreme Courts rejected some no injury medical monitoring claims. So that’s a positive development for defendants there. The New Jersey appellate court in particular also had a notable case of discarding and proper expert testimony.

And I know we mentioned Texas had some other courts leading pro claim, if but the Texas Supreme Court rejected claims involving the manipulation of juries. So I think there’s certainly some hope in those places. And finally, the West Virginia Supreme Court recently placed reasonable limits on employer liability. So while a lot of the courts that are on this annual report are mainstays, there are a few new ones that are kind of catching our eye, but there’s also a few that are seemingly becoming a little bit more friendly for employers and defendants to defend cases in. So, as you mentioned Jerry, location, location, location and the keys to these locations ebbs and flows depending on various factors within those courts.

Jerry: Well, thank you Alex for your thoughts and analysis in this area. I definitely believe the report is a required read and an essential desk reference for corporate counsel and knowing the playing field where you’re sued, your judge, the case law – critical components to crafting essential defense strategies to defeat and defend these large cases. Well, thank you very much for joining us on this week’s Class Action Weekly Wire.

Alex: Thank you, Jerry. It was a pleasure to be here and thank you to all of our listeners. Stay tuned!

The 2023-2024 Judicial Hellholes Report From The American Tort Reform Association Ranks The Worst Jurisdictions For Defendants

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Jennifer A. Riley

Duane Morris Takeaways: Annually the American Tort Reform Association (“ATRA”) publishes its “Judicial Hellholes Report,” focusing on litigation issues and identifying jurisdictions likely to have unfair and biased administration of justice. The ATRA recently published its 2023-2024 Report and for the first time in the history of the report, the ATRA ranked two jurisdictions at the top of the list – both Georgia and Pennsylvania, specifically the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas – as the most challenging venues for defendants. Readers can find a copy here and the executive summary here.

The Judicial Hellholes Report is an important read for corporate counsel facing class action litigation because it identifies jurisdictions that are generally unfavorable to defendants. The Report defines a “judicial hellhole” as a jurisdiction where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally to the disadvantage of defendants. The Report is a “must read” for anyone litigating class actions and making decisions about venue strategy.

The 2023 Hellholes

In its recently released annual report, the ATRA identified 9 jurisdictions on its 2023 hellholes list – which, in order, include, tied at number one: (1) Georgia – (the defending “champion” from the top of the 2022 list, with massive verdicts bogging down business and more liability expanding decisions issued by the Georgia Supreme Court); and (1) Pennsylvania (especially in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania); (3) Cook County (as a “no-injury required” hotspot and lawsuits stemming from the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act); (4) California (with Proposition 65 lawsuits thriving and a huge overall volume of lawsuits, in addition to Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) litigation, lemon law litigation, and environmental hotbed); (5) New York (with “no-injury” consumer class action lawsuits and massive verdicts); (6) South Carolina (particularly in asbestos litigation, with problems related to bias against corporate defendants, unwarranted sanctions, low evidentiary requirements, liability expanding rulings, unfair trials, severe verdicts, and a willingness to overturn or modify jury verdicts to benefit plaintiffs); (7) Lansing, Michigan (particularly due to liability-expanding decisions by the Michigan Supreme Court and pro-plaintiff legislative activity); (8) Louisiana (with long-running costal litigation and insurance claim fraud litigation); and (9) St. Louis, Missouri (with focuses on junk science in the courtrooms and nuclear verdicts).

According to the ATRA’s analysis, these venues are less than optimal for corporate defendants and often attract plaintiffs’ attorneys, particularly for the filing of class action lawsuits. Therefore, corporate counsel should take particular care if they encounter a class action lawsuit filed in one of these venues.

The 2024 “Watch List”

The ATRA also included 3 jurisdictions on its “watch list,” including Kentucky (the ATRA noted that Kentucky, as a newcomer to the list, has been reported as having some lawyers resorting to unethical measures to secure wins); New Jersey (with a powerful trial bar), and Texas (particularly the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District, which the ATRA opined has developed a reputation for being pro-plaintiff and pro-liability expansion).

In addition, the ATRA recognized that several jurisdictions made significant positive improvements this year, highlighting decisions by the New Hampshire and Delaware Supreme Courts, which rejected no-injury medical monitoring claims, the New Jersey Appellate Court, which discarded improper expert testimony, the Texas Supreme Court, which rejected manipulation of juries, and the West Virginia Supreme Court, which placed reasonable limits on employer liability.

In addition to court actions, the ATRA also stated that nine state legislatures enacted positive civil justice reforms this year.

 Implications For Employers

The Judicial Hellholes Report often mirrors the experience of companies in high-stakes class actions, as Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, New York, South Carolina, Michigan, Louisiana, and Missouri are among the leading states where plaintiffs’ lawyers file class actions. These jurisdictions are linked by class certification standards that are more plaintiff-friendly and more generous damages recovery possibilities under state laws.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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