By: Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Alex Karasik

Seyfarth Synopsis: Over the past few weeks, two federal appellate courts have issued major decisions on the scope of workplace discrimination protections covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).  In addition to creating a conflict between various past appellate court precedents, these decisions highlight an ideological divide between two major federal government agencies.  In this video blog, Associate Alex Karasik and Partner Jerry Maatman of Seyfarth Shaw discuss the importance of these decisions, and what employers can expect to see in the evolving debate over Title VII protections.

On February 26, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit issued an impactful decision in Zarda, et al. v. Altitude Express, d/b/a Skydive Long Island, et al., No. 15-3775 (2d Cir. Feb. 26, 2018), which fueled the debate over protections for sexual orientation under Title VII. The Second Circuit ruled in favor of a (now-deceased) skydiving instructor who claimed to be fired because he was gay, therefore ruling that sexual orientation is a protected category under Title VII.

Then, just last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) notched a major win when the Sixth Circuit sided with the Commission’s position in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., Nos. 16-2424 & 2018 (6th Cir. Mar. 7, 2018).  We previously blogged about this decision here.  This case considered a transgender worker.

These recent appellate court decisions have agreed with the EEOC’s position on the definition of sex discrimination under Title VII.  However, there is also significant opposition to this position – namely by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”).  In the Zarda case mentioned above, the EEOC and DOJ both submitted amicus briefs, taking completely opposite sides on this issue.  Additionally, the 11th Circuit issued a decision in March of 2017 entitled Evans v. Georgia Reg’l Hosp., No. 15-15234 (11th Cir. Mar. 10, 2017), which sided with the DOJ and a more strict interpretation of the workplace discrimination laws at hand.

In today’s video, Jerry and Alex discuss this controversial topic in detail, and provide their own insights on the matter.  As Jerry states in the video, what this issue looks to be driving towards is, “a showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court, or the halls of Congress, over the scope and parameters over the protections of Title VII.”


By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Alex W. Karasik

Synopsis: In an ADEA collective action alleging that a community college discriminated on the basis of age when it announced it would no longer employ any person receiving an annuity from the State Universities Retirement System (SURS), a federal district court in Illinois granted the college’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the decision to discontinue the employment of all SURS annuitants regardless of age did not amount to discrimination.

For employers considering mass employment actions that may impact a large number of older employees, this ruling provides insight into the factors that courts will examine in potential ADEA collective actions.


Case Background

In November 2014, Oakton Community College (“Oakton”) announced that as of July 1, 2015, it would no longer employ any person receiving an annuity from the State Universities Retirement System (“SURS”).  Affected SURS annuitants — all of whom worked at Oakton as part-time, or adjunct, faculty members prior to July 2015 — filed three separate lawsuits against Oakton.  Following the Court’s consolidation of the lawsuits, in Filipek  v. Oakton Community College, No. 16-CV-2902, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31727 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 28, 2018), Plaintiffs alleged that Oakton’s decision not to employ SURS annuitants violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) and Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), among other claims.  Id. at *2-3.

The Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for certification of an ADEA collective action and Rule 23 class certification on the IHRA claims that consisted of “all part-time and adjunct faculty who were denied employment at Oakton Community College as the result of its policy not to employ or re-employ [SURS] and who are not ‘affected annuitants’ pursuant to 40 …”  Id. at *3.  Thereafter, Oakton (and the individual Defendants) moved for summary judgment.

The Court’s Decision

The Court granted Oakton’s motion for summary judgment as to all claims.  First, regarding Plaintiffs’ disparate treatment claims, Oakton argued that summary judgment was warranted because no reasonable factfinder could conclude that age was a “but-for” cause of Oakton’s decision not to employ any SURS annuitants after July 1, 2015.  Id. at *9-10.  Plaintiffs contended that they presented evidence sufficient to make out a prima facie case of disparate treatment under the McDonnell Douglas framework, and that a grant of summary judgment was unwarranted because there were disputed factual issues regarding whether Oakton’s given reason for the decision not to employ any SURS annuitants was pretextual.  Id. at *10.  Noting that all SURS annuitants were fired, and that all employees — regardless of age — who remained employed by the college were not SURS annuitants, the Court held that Plaintiffs did not make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework.  Id. at *11.

Turning to Plaintiffs’ disparate impact claims, Oakton argued that Plaintiffs could not make out a prima facie case because they could not establish that Oakton’s decision to no longer employ SURS annuitants caused a significantly disproportionate adverse impact based on age, and that even if Plaintiffs could make out a prima facie case, summary judgment was warranted because its decision to discontinue the employment of all SURS annuitants was based on a reasonable factor other than age — namely, the desire to eliminate the risk of having to pay a penalty to SURS for employing an affected annuitant.  Id. at *14-15.  Plaintiffs identified a specific, facially neutral employment practice that they alleged adversely impacted them because of their age: i.e., Oakton’s decision not to employ any SURS annuitant after July 1, 2015.  Id. at *15.  The Court held this was likely sufficient to establish a prima facie case under a disparate impact theory.  Id.  However, the Court noted that none of the evidence cited by Plaintiffs undermined Oakton’s explanation that the only sure way to prevent mistaken employment of an affected annuitant and the resulting payment to SURS was to discontinue the employment of all SURS annuitants.  Id. at *16.  Acknowledging that there may have been other reasonable and more narrowly tailored ways for Oakton to address this problem, the Court nonetheless held that no reasonable jury could find that Oakton’s decision to no longer employ any SURS annuitants was unreasonable.  Id. 

Accordingly, the Court granted summary judgment for Oakton (and all other Defendants) on Plaintiffs’ disparate impact age discrimination claims under the ADEA and the IHRA.  The Court also granted summary judgment for Defendants as to the remaining state law and other claims.

Implications For Employers

Employers who are considering whether to discontinue the employment of a large number of older employees must be cognizant that such personnel decisions could make them prime targets for ADEA collective actions and/or class actions under state workplace laws.  In Filipek, the employer emerged victorious at the summary judgment stage because it discontinued the employment of all annuitants, and therefore, its employment decision did not amount to age discrimination.  Nonetheless, employers should exercise extreme caution when considering mass lay-offs or employment discontinuances given how closely courts (and the plaintiffs’ class action bar) scrutinize such decisions.


By Scott Rabe, Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., and Marlin Duro

Seyfarth Synopsis: In its recent decision in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., No. 16-2424, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 5720 (6th Cir. Mar. 7, 2018), the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit has sent the strong message that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) has minimal impact on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) authority to enforce the anti-discrimination laws under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).  The ruling is a big win for the EEOC.

In EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., a Sixth Circuit panel held in a unanimous decision that: (i) Title VII’s proscription of discrimination on the basis of sex encompasses a prohibition on discrimination based on transgender status, and that (ii) in this case the RFRA would not limit the EEOC’s authority to enforce anti-discrimination laws under Title VII.  With this decision, the Sixth Circuit became the first federal Court of Appeals to address the extent to which the RFRA may limit the EEOC’s power to enforce Title VII.[1]

Case Background

By way of background, the EEOC brought suit against a funeral home on behalf of a transgender employee, Aimee Stephens, who was terminated from her employment shortly after informing her employer that she intended to transition from male to female.  The EEOC alleged the funeral home violated Title VII by terminating Stephens’ employment on the basis of her transgender or transitioning status and her refusal to conform to sex-based stereotypes.  The funeral home argued that Title VII did not prohibit discrimination on the basis of transgender status and that the funeral home was protected from enforcement of Title VII by the  RFRA as the government action would constitute an unjustified substantial burden upon the funeral home owner’s exercise of his sincerely held religious beliefs.

Both parties moved for summary judgment and the district court found in favor of the funeral home on both motions  The district court found that Title VII did not protect against discrimination based on transgender status and that, while Stephens had suffered discrimination based on sex stereotyping, the RFRA prevented the EEOC from suing on her behalf.

The Sixth Circuit Appeal

On the EEOC’s appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court with respect to both motions and  granted summary judgment in favor of the EEOC. First, the Sixth Circuit held that the funeral home’s conduct violated Title VII, reinforcing its prior holdings that discrimination against employees because of their gender identity and transgender status are illegal under Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination based on sex stereotyping.  The Sixth Circuit explained that “discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex” and found that firing a person because he or she will no longer represent him or herself as the gender that he or she was born with “falls squarely within the ambit of sex-based discrimination” forbidden under Title VII.  Id. at *18.

Second, the Sixth Circuit held that the EEOC’s enforcement of Title VII against the funeral home did not violate the funeral home’s rights under the RFRA.  A viable defense based on the RFRA requires a demonstration that the government action at issue would substantially burden a sincerely held religious exercise.  Although the Sixth Circuit treated the running of the funeral home as a sincere religious exercise by the owner, it held that the alleged burden caused by the enforcement of Title VII was not “substantial” within the meaning of RFRA.  The Sixth Circuit reasoned that tolerating an employee’s understanding of his or her sex and gender identity was not “tantamount to supporting it” and that mere compliance with Title VII, “without actually assisting or facilitating transition efforts,” did not amount to an endorsement by the employer of the employee’s views.  Id. at *59, *61.  Nor, the Sixth Circuit explained, could the funeral home rely on customers’ “presumed biases” against transgender individuals to meet the substantial burden test. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit held that the funeral home had not demonstrated a substantial burden on the its religious exercise.

While the Sixth Circuit could have ended its analysis there, it went on to hold that even if tolerating Stephens’ gender identity and transitioning status were a “substantial burden” on the funeral home’s religious exercise, the EEOC did not violate the RFRA because the agency had a compelling interest in eradicating all forms of invidious employment discrimination, and enforcement of Title VII through its enforcement function was the least restrictive means for eradicating discrimination in the workforce.  This analysis, if found not to apply only to the facts of this case, could ostensibly doom any defense to a Title VII action within the Sixth Circuit where an employer raises a defense based on the RFRA.

Implications For Employers

The Sixth Circuit’s opinion is an important one, as it addresses two of the more hot button topics in employment jurisprudence:  the scope of the definition of “sex discrimination” under Title VII and the impact of laws protecting the free exercise of religion in the workplace.  On the former, this opinion joins the recent trend in decisions finding that gender identity is inextricably linked with sex and therefore is protected under Title VII.  And on the latter, the Sixth Circuit has laid down a gauntlet as the first federal circuit addressing the RFRA’s impact on the EEOC’s Title VII enforcement power.  The decision is clearly intended to send a strong message that the RFRA has limited application, if any, in defense of a Title VII action brought by the Commission.  While time will tell whether other federal circuits will adopt a similar interpretation, if the Sixth Circuit’s legal rationale is followed, employers will be hard-pressed to defend Title VII claims brought by the EEOC based on the alleged exercise of religious freedom.

In light of the current uncertainty regarding the ultimate interpretation of Title VII as it applies to gender identity, employers should regularly review their policies to ensure that adequate protections are provided to employees on the basis of their gender identity, and transgender and transitioning status.  As always, we also invite employers to reach out to their Seyfarth contact for solutions and recommendations regarding anti-harassment and EEO policies and addressing compliance with LGBTQ+ issues in the law.

[1]              The RFRA, enacted in 1993, prohibits the government from enforcing a law that is religiously neutral against an individual, if the natural law “substantially burdens” the individual’s religious exercise and is not the least restrictive way to further a compelling government interest.  Importantly, the RFRA applies only in the context of government action, and therefore would not provide a defense for an employer in a civil suit brought by a private plaintiff.

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Timothy F. Haley, and Ashley K. Laken

Seyfarth Synopsis: Over the past few weeks, we have been covering the release of our 14th Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report. Today’s post focuses on an emerging trend in the workplace class action space — regarding workplace antitrust class actions. In this video blog, Associate Ashley Laken of Seyfarth Shaw, joined by Partner Jerry Maatman and Senior Counsel Tim Haley, provides an overview on the expected rise in class action filings alleging no-hire or no-poaching agreements.

At the core of our topic today are anticipated filings of workplace class actions alleging wage suppression in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has recently stated that it is currently investigating a number of no-hire or no-poaching agreements among employers, and it anticipates announcing what may be criminal enforcement actions in the next couple of months.  We previously blogged about this announcement here.

DOJ enforcement actions such as this frequently lead to follow-on private class actions.  For example, this is what occurred in the highly publicized consolidated class action entitled In Re High-Tech Employee Antitrust LitigationHigh-Tech involved and alleged series of agreements among large Silicon Valley companies not to cold call each other’s employees.  After the Court granted plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, the case settled for a total of $435 million.

As our team explains in this video, we believe the key issue in these cases is class certification.  Employers have had little success prevailing on motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment.  The potential damages, which are trebled under the antitrust laws, are staggering putting enormous pressure on employers to settle the case if class certification is achieved.  When defendants win at the class certification stage, they are able to resolve these cases on very favorable terms.  However, when they lose class certification, they have settled for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.  Speaking from decades of experience, Jerry and Tim elaborate on this strategy and more in the video, making the clip an absolute must-watch for employers!

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Alex W. Karasik

Seyfarth Synopsis:  In a showdown between the State of Texas and the EEOC – whereby Texas alleged that the EEOC’s “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII” interfered with its authority to limit the hiring of felons – a federal district court in Texas recently granted the EEOC’s motion for summary judgment, and denied in part Texas’s motion for summary judgment and request for declaratory relief.

This decision signals to employers that the Commission’s position on the unlawful nature of categorical bans on the hiring of felons remains viable.


Case Background

In State of Texas v. EEOC, No. 5:13CV-255, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30558 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 1, 2018) (which we previously blogged about here), Texas argued that the EEOC’s Guidance directly interfered with its authority to impose categorical bans on hiring felons and to be able to discretionarily reject felons for certain jobs.  Id. at *1.  In its Second Amended Complaint, Texas brought two causes of action.  The first cause of action, brought under the Declaratory Judgment Act, sought a declaration that Texas has a right to maintain and enforce its laws and policies that absolutely bar convicted felons (or certain categories of convicted felons) from serving in any job the State and its Legislature deem appropriate; and (2) an injunction preventing the EEOC and the U.S. Attorney General from enforcing the interpretation of Title VII that appears in the Guidance, and from issuing right-to-sue letters.  Id. at *2.  The second cause of action, brought under the Administrative Procedures Act, asked the Court to hold the Guidance unlawful and to set it aside as (1) a substantive rule issued without notice and opportunity for comment; (2) outside the statutory scope given to the EEOC; and (3) an unreasonable interpretation of Title VII. Id.

The EEOC argued that the Guidance had not yet been enforced against Texas, and therefore, the issue was not ripe for adjudication.  Id.  Further, the EEOC asserted that the only purpose of the Guidance was to update and consolidate all of the EEOC’s prior policy statements about Title VII and the use of criminal records in employment decisions.  The EEOC additionally contended that the Guidance was not an expansion of Title VII’s prohibition against hiring policies that create a disparate impact upon protected classes (in this instance, certain racial classes are alleged to be disproportionately impacted by consideration of felony convictions as a ban for employment opportunities).

The District Court’s Decision

The Court granted the EEOC’s motion for summary judgment, and denied in part Texas’s motion for summary judgment and request for declaratory relief.  First, the Court opined that Texas did not have a right to maintain and enforce its laws and policies that absolutely bar convicted felons (or certain categories of convicted felons) from serving in any job that the State and its Legislature deemed appropriate.  Id. at *3.  The Court explained that although there were many categories of employment for which specific prior criminal history profiles of applicants would be a poor fit and pose far too great a risk to the interests of the State and its citizens, there were also many conceivable scenarios where otherwise qualified applicants with felony convictions would pose no objectively reasonable risk.  Accordingly, the Court held that “a categorical denial of employment opportunities to all job applicants convicted of a prior felony paints with too broad a brush and denies meaningful opportunities of employment to many who could benefit greatly from such employment in certain positions.” Id.

Further, the Court addressed Texas’s request that it enjoin the EEOC from issuing right-to-sue letters in relation to the denial of employment opportunities based on the criminal history of the job applicant.  The Court rejected this request, holding the issuance of a right to sue letter was not a determination by the EEOC that a meritorious claim exists. However, the Court did grant Texas’s motion for summary judgment as to its APA claim, noting the Guidance was a substantive rule issued without notice and the opportunity for comment. The Court thus enjoined the EEOC from enforcing the guidance until the notice and comment requirements were satisfied. Accordingly, the Court granted the EEOC’s motion for summary judgment, and denied in part Texas’s motion for summary judgment and request for declaratory relief. Id. at *3-4.

Implications For Employers

This decision has a heavy dose of procedure, but assuming the District Court’s decision remains in place, it nonetheless puts employers on notice that courts will likely give strong deference to the EEOC’s Guidance when considering categorical bans regarding the hiring of felons.  Further, the EEOC will likely use the momentum it gained from this ruling to continue enforcement of its Guidance in an aggressive fashion and investigate businesses with such sweeping hiring practices.

While employers in certain industries may have legitimate reasons for not hiring particular felons (for instance, a bank refusing to hire a felon convicted of embezzlement), businesses need to be cautious about implementing blanket hiring prohibitions of felons.  Accordingly, the best practice for employers is to focus on the qualifications of applicants, and make hiring decisions based on merit.



By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr., Christopher J. DeGroff, Matthew J. Gagnon, & Kyla Miller

Seyfarth Synopsis: This month the EEOC released its 2018-2022 strategic plan, which focuses on preventing and combating discrimination and improving the EEOC’s organizational functionality. It also released the agency’s 2019 budget request, which mirrors its $363 million dollar request from last year.

Strategic Plan: FY 2018-2022

On February 12, 2018, the EEOC approved its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2018-2022 (available here). The EEOC is required to publish a strategic plan, which serves as a framework for the EEOC in implementing its mission to combat employment discrimination. The Strategic Plan is not to be confused with the Strategic Enforcement Plan. We like to think of the Strategic Enforcement Plan as the “what,” and the Strategic Plan as the “how.” The Strategic Enforcement plan, discussed more fully here, explains what priorities the EEOC will focus on. More generally, the Strategic Plan lays out the high level overview of how the agency is going to achieve those objectives. The 2018-2022 strategic plan includes three general objectives:

  1. Combat and prevent employment discrimination through the strategic application of the EEOC’s law enforcement authorities.

The EEOC has outlined two outcome goals of this strategic objective. First, the EEOC aims to stop and remedy discriminatory employment practices and provide meaningful relief to victims. Second, the EEOC would like to exercise its enforcement authority fairly, efficiently, and based on the circumstances of each charge or complaint.

  1. Prevent employment discrimination through education and outreach.

This objective reflects the EEOC’s interest in deterring employment discrimination before it occurs. The primary means to this goal includes investigations, conciliations, and litigation. The EEOC’s two goals for this strategic objective include helping members of the public understand the law and their rights, and for employers, unions, and employment agencies to prevent discrimination and address EEO issues when they occur.

  1. Management objective.

This objective is focused on the EEOC “achieving organizational excellence,” which includes improving management functions with a focus on information technology, infrastructure enhancement, and accountable financial stewardship. The EEOC pledged accountability for improving its operations where needed. The two outcome goals for this objective include having staff that exemplify a culture of excellence, respect and accountability, and allocating resources effectively to ensure they line up with their stated priorities.

FY 2019 Budget Request

With its new strategic plan also comes a new budget request (available here). The EEOC is requesting $363,807,086 for fiscal year 2019, which includes $29,443,921 for state and local fair employment practice agencies (FEPAs) and tribal employment rights organizations (TEROs).

The EEOC urges congressional support, citing its commitment to building a digital workplace to increase their efficiency and provide timely service to the public. The agency also states a need for more staff and resources to deliver high quality service. The EEOC says that it intends to maintain its staffing levels in order to further reduce the charge backlog. The funding is also anticipated to cover “rents and mandatory office relocations.”

This request is  $1.783 million over the fiscal year 2018 Continuing Resolution level, but is the exact same budget request it made for fiscal year 2018. This year’s budget goals include: (1) investing in the “agency of the future”; (2) managing the inventory and reducing backlog; (3) improving and leveraging technology; and (4) outreach, education, and strategic law enforcement. Time will tell if the EEOC’s budget request will be approved, and whether it will use that money wisely.

Implications For Employers

As anyone who is paying attention to the news knows, the future direction of the budget for many federal agencies is a bit uncertain. For example, President Trump’s recently released budget proposes huge cuts for a different federal agency — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This makes the relative stability of the EEOC’s budget request somewhat remarkable. Whether it can continue to fly under the radar of federal budget cutting remains to be seen. In the meantime, employers should keep in mind that the EEOC managed to file an impressive number of lawsuits last year while operating under pretty much the same budgetary constraints that are proposed for fiscal year 2019.


By Ashley K. Laken and Timothy F. Haley

Seyfarth Synopsis: On February 1, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina entered an order granting in part, and denying in part, the plaintiff’s motion for class certification in a no-hire antitrust case entitled Seaman v. Duke University, 1:15-CV-462, at 1-2 (M.D.N.C. Feb. 1, 2018) (A copy of the decision can be found here.)  The case was brought against Duke University, Duke University Health System (collectively “Duke”), and various University of North Carolina entities and one of its executives (collectively “UNC”).  The complaint alleged that the defendants had entered into an agreement not to hire each other’s medical faculty employees in violation of federal antitrust laws.  With some notable exceptions it has been difficult for plaintiffs to achieve class certification in wage suppression cases such as Seaman.  The ruling is a “must read” for employers, as the Court’s reasoning and conclusions make it difficult to predict whether this case will be helpful or hurtful to the plaintiffs’ bar in other cases.

Background To The Case

Seaman, an Assistant Professor of Radiology at Duke, contended that she applied for a position at UNC in 2015.  She alleged that she was denied consideration due to an agreement among the Duke and UNC defendants that they would not hire each another’s medical faculty employees unless the hire involved a promotion.  Seaman alleged that this agreement not only suppressed the compensation of defendants’ medical faculty members, but also their other skilled medical employees.  Thus, Seaman sought to certify a class consisting not only of defendants’ medical faculty members, but also their physicians, nurses, and skilled medical staff.  Id. at 1-2.

Antitrust Impact And Damages – Faculty

The primary certification challenge for the plaintiff  in Seaman was to demonstrate predominance under Rule 23(b)(3), as there was little dispute that the other Rule 23 requirements were satisfied.  As is typical with wage suppression antitrust cases, the battleground centered on whether antitrust impact and damages could be shown with common proof.  The Court defined antitrust impact as injury that reflects the anti-competitive effect, either of the violation or of anti-competitive acts made possible by the violation.  Id. at 8.  Seaman contended that the no-hire agreement had an antitrust impact on faculty compensation in two ways, including: (1) the defendants did not have to provide preemptive compensation increases for faculty that otherwise would have been needed to ensure employee retention; and (2) the defendants’ internal equity structures – policies and practices that are alleged to have insured relatively constant compensation relationships between employees – spread the individual harm of decreased lateral offers and corresponding lack of retention offers to all faculty, thus suppressing compensation faculty-wide.  The Court agreed that the evidence offered by Seaman to prove these facts was common to the class.  Id. at 8-9.

Regarding damages, Seaman’s expert testified that his analysis of the data demonstrated that compensation increases were associated with increases in experience – i.e., individual faculty members were typically paid more as they obtained experience.  Id. at 13.  The expert conducted a regression analysis and applied the results “to the faculty compensation data to develop an aggregate damages estimate for faculty.”  Id. at 14.  Based on this evidence, the Court concluded that Seaman’s proposed method for calculating damages was based upon evidence that would be common to the faculty.

Antitrust Impact And Damages – Non-Faculty

Seaman’s expert also attempted to demonstrate that antitrust impact and damages could be shown with common proof as to non-faculty members based on the same analysis applied to faculty members.  As to impact, the Court noted that unlike the faculty, there was no evidence that non-faculty received retention offers or peremptory compensation increases that would then be spread to other non-faculty through Seaman’s internal equity theory.  Thus, the Court concluded that Seaman’s method of proving impact involved individual rather than common proof for all non-faculty.  Id. at 15-16.

Accordingly, the Court granted the motion for class certification as to faculty members, but not as to non-faculty members.  Id. at 21-25.

Implications For Employers

It is unclear what precedential impact Seaman may have on future class action wage suppression cases.  Plaintiffs have had mixed results achieving class certification in compensation suppression cases.  This is true in wage information exchange cases as well as cases involving no-hire agreements such as Seaman.  For example, in Weisfeld v. Sun Chem. Corp., 84 Fed. Appx. 257, 258 (3rd Cir. 2004), the Third Circuit upheld the district court’s decision denying certification in an antitrust case involving an alleged series of no-hire agreements among employers in the ink printing industry, agreeing with the district court that the plaintiff did not satisfy the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3).  Among other things, the Third Circuit noted that the “decreased salary and deprivation of opportunities inquiries would require considering numerous individual factors” including “whether a covenant not to compete was included in a particular employee’s contract; employee salary history, educational and other qualifications; employer’s place of business; employee’s willingness to relocate to a distant competitor; and [employees’] ability to seek employment in other industries in which their skills could be utilized….” Id. at 264.  There was no mention in Seaman whether factors like this were present, and if so, how they could be addressed with common evidence.  It would certainly be unusual if the only factor affecting compensation was experience.

Furthermore, the expert’s damage model in Seaman was designed to show only an “aggregate class-wide damages estimate for faculty.”  It is not entirely clear what the Court meant by that phrase, but if the Court was referring to an average wage suppression, such reliance has been pointedly rejected as a “fundamental flaw” by at least one other court.  In rejecting the plaintiff’s expert’s analysis in Reed v. Advocate Health Care, 268 F.R.D. 573, 590-92 (N.D. Ill. 2009), the court stated: “Measuring average base wage suppression does not indicate whether each putative class member suffered harm from the alleged conspiracy.  In other words, it is not a methodology common to the class that can determine impact with respect to each class member.”  Id. at 591.

Given these issues, it remains to be seen what effect Seaman will have on future cases.

Seyfarth Synopsis:  This year we were lucky enough to have Perry Cooper, Senior Legal Editor of Bloomberg BNA, as our special guest at Seyfarth Shaw’s “Top Trends In Workplace Class Action Litigation” event.  Perry provided our over 1,000 in-person and webcast attendees with an overview of major Supreme Court class action decisions, as well as led the discussion on other important topics for employers including arbitration, ascertainability, and the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act.  Today’s post allows our blog readers to watch Perry’s entire presentation.  Check it out in the link below!

Seyfarth Synopsis:  Earlier this week, we hosted a webcast with over 1,000 participants on “Top Trends In Workplace Class Action Litigation Panel Discussion”.  The event was a tremendous success, and gave every employer in attendance the tips they need to approach the increasingly complicated class action landscape.  In today’s blog, readers are given the footage from the presentation of Seyfarth Shaw Partner Jerry Maatman at this event.  Watch in the link below! 

By Gerald L. Maatman, Jr. and Peter J. Wozniak

Seyfarth Synopsis:  In a TCPA class action where final settlement (including attorneys’ fees) had already received final approval, a federal district court in California denied class counsel’s request to enjoin a pending state court action brought by their former colleague to recoup a portion of the attorneys’ fees awarded as part of the settlement.

For employers negotiating class action settlements including attorneys’ fees, this ruling provides insight into the potential complications in dealing with fractured class counsel constituencies, and a reminder about the limits of federal courts’ willingness to enjoin parallel state court proceedings.


In Dakota Medical, Inc. v. RehabCare Group, Inc. et al., No. 14-CV-2081, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15972 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 30, 2018), the parties reached a settlement of a TCPA class action. The settlement included an award of $8,333.33 in attorneys’ fees to class counsel.  Id. at *3. Weeks after the settlement received final approval, class counsel moved the District Court to enjoin a state court lawsuit against them by their former colleague, attorney Scott Zimmerman.  Zimmerman’s state court suit sought payment from class counsel for his work on the Dakota Medical action, as well as for his work on a prior putative class action (against the same defendants) on which he also worked with class counsel.  Id. at *4-5.  In the District Court, class counsel sought to enjoin Zimmerman’s state court action under the All Writs Act (28 U.S.C. § 1651(a)) and the Anti-Injunction Act (28 U.S.C. § 2283).  Class counsel argued that an injunction from the district court was necessary “in aid of” the District Court’s jurisdiction in the now-settled class Dakota Medical action, and to avoid relitigation of issues already decided by the district court.  Id. at *5.  Judge Dale A. Drozd of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied the motion to enjoin the pending state court action.

Employers can use this decision in to guide their settlement negotiations with class counsel constituencies and inform the sort of assurances that might be sought even when relatively small amounts of attorneys’ fees are at stake, and to bear in mind the occasional reticence of federal courts to interfere with parallel state court actions.

Case Background

The underlying litigation involved the alleged sending of a “huge number of junk faxes to various nursing homes and healthcare facilities.”  Id. at *3.  After “substantial litigation,” the parties settled their dispute.  The settlement agreement provided for class counsel to receive one-third of the $25,000 common fund.  Id.

Zimmerman acted as class counsel in the Dakota Medical action until he was dismissed by the named plaintiffs in March 2016.  Id. at *5 n.1.  He also previously worked with class counsel on another class action against the Dakota Medical defendants, where class certification was ultimately denied.  Id.  Shortly after judgment was entered in the Dakota Medical action, Zimmerman brought a state court action against the Dakota Medical class counsel under a quantum meruit theory, seeking to be paid for his work on both class actions.  Id.

Under the All Writs Act, class counsel moved the district court in Dakota Medical to enjoin Zimmerman’s state court suit against them, arguing that “two of the exceptions to the Anti-Injunction Act — the necessary in aid of jurisdiction exception and the relitigation exception — appl[ied] here, permitting [the district court] to enjoin the state court action.”  Id. at *7.  Class counsel argued that the “necessary in aid of jurisdiction” exception applied for four reasons: “(1) the state court action ‘threatens to frustrate proceedings and disrupt the orderly resolution’ of [the Dakota Medical action]; (2) the state court action ‘undermines the due process rights of [Dakota Medical] class members to receive notice of and object to attorneys’ fees’; (3) allowing the state court action to proceed undermines the procedures set forth in Rule 23 for the awarding of attorneys’ fees; and (4) the state court action unfairly penalizes named plaintiff and class representative Dakota Medical.”  Id. at *10. Class counsel argued that the “relitigation exception” applied because Zimmerman had a “full and fair” opportunity to litigate his entitlement to fees before the district court in Dakota Medical and that Zimmerman’s state court action was “an effort to relitigate [the Dakota Medical] court’s decision with respect to the award of attorneys’ fees.”  Id. at *18.

The Court’s Decision

The Court denied class counsel’s motion to enjoin Zimmerman’s state court lawsuit action on both grounds.

First, the Court addressed class counsel’s arguments regarding the “necessary in aid of jurisdiction” exception.  The Court explained that class counsel’s first argument fell short, because frustration “and even some disruption” of a federal action are insufficient.  Id. at *8-10..  The Court explained that Zimmerman’s state court action would not “damage the settlement of [the Dakota Medical] action in any way.”  Id. at *10.  The state court “would presumably award a money judgment in [Zimmerman’s] favor” against class counsel, but would not “invade the funds set aside for the class” or otherwise affect the Dakota Medical settlement.  Id.  The Court explained that class counsel’s second argument was insufficient because due process does not require class members to be informed as to how attorneys’ fees are divided among class counsel.  Id. at *13-14.  The court rejected class counsel’s third argument because Zimmerman’s state court action did not seek an award of attorneys’ fees under Rule 23, it sought quantum meruit damages against class counsel for “the value of the work performed.”  Id. at 14.  The Court summarily rejected class counsel’s fourth argument as being unsupported by any authority, and noted that class counsel’s concerns were “separate and apart” from the Dakota Medical suit itself.

Second, with regard to the “relitigation exception,” the Court noted that “class counsel fall far short of establishing the applicability of that exception . . . .”  Id. at *18.  First, the Court explained that class counsel failed to demonstrate that Zimmerman –a non-party in the Dakota Medical suit – was in privity with the parties.  Id. at *19.  According to the Court, some of “the parties to the settlement in this action” were actually adversarial to “Zimmerman’s interest in the outcome of the attorneys’ fees dispute.”  Id. at *20.  The Court also explained that there was no identity of claims between the suits.  As the Court noted, the Dakota Medical suit involved purported TCPA violations involving “junk faxes advertising seminars and workshops on Medicare and Medicaid billing and other issues to healthcare facilities.”  Id. at *22.  Zimmerman’s suit, however, “concerns what compensation, if any, should be paid to a former attorney of the named plaintiff for his work allegedly performed in connection with both [the Dakota Medical suit] and another lawsuit.”  Id.

Accordingly, the Court denied class counsel’s motion to enjoin Zimmerman’s state court lawsuit.

Implications For Employers

It is not uncommon for the makeup of class counsel constituencies to change over the course of a protracted litigation, or for disputes to arise among plaintiffs’ counsel regarding the appropriate payment of attorneys’ fees.

In Dakota Medical, final settlement was approved by the Court on September 21, 2017, but the ensuing motion practice regarding the injunction was not resolved for more than four additional months.  Thus, when negotiating class actions settlements, to help ensure expedient resolution of agreed-upon settlements, employers should consider whether and to what extent assurances regarding former class counsel can and should be secured.

Further, particularly in the Ninth Circuit, employers can use this decision to remind themselves of the reluctance of federal courts to interfere with state court actions, even those which from a pragmatic perspective may frustrate or disrupt a federal action.