Paul Hastings partners Nancy Abell and Heather Morgan have spent close to a decade chipping away at a once-massive discrimination lawsuit against corporate work uniform manufacturer Cintas. The case began as a nationwide class action alleging bias against African American, Hispanic, and female employees and job applicants. By this year, all that remained was an appeal by a female job applicant who hoped to revive her own case and that of her class.
Now not even that much is left of the case. On Thursday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit refused to overturn a Detroit federal judge’s decision denying class certification to a class of female applicants, finding that the plaintiffs couldn’t survive the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling in Wal-Mart v. Dukes. The panel also threw out one of two individual disparate treatment claims brought by plaintiff Tanesha Davis, though another of Davis’s disparate treatment claims survived.
"I think that justice has finally been served," Abell told us on Friday.
Davis, a Milwaukee, Wisc., resident, sued Mason, Ohio-based Cintas on behalf of herself and a class of female job applicants who’d been denied employment as entry-level sales representatives. Her lawyers at Chicago’s Miner, Barnhill & Galland alleged that Cintas’s hiring practices discriminated against women and caused Cintas to reject Davis’s job application twice, once in 2003 and again in 2004. Davis’s own suit wasn’t filed until 2006, when her case joined sprawling class action litigation over Cintas’s hiring practices that first started in San Francisco three years before.
U.S. District Judge Sean Cox in Detroit denied class certification in 2009, and all the remaining plaintiffs except Davis eventually withdrew their individual and class claims. The Sixth Circuit backed Cox’s class cert ruling in Thursday’s decision, concluding that Davis couldn’t satisfy the commonality requirements set forth in Dukes. Her lawyers, the panel ruled, "could not show that a number of women, who failed to obtain employment at many places, over a long time, under a largely subjective hiring system, shared a common question of law or fact." The appeals court also agreed with Judge Cox that Davis couldn’t cite aggregate statistics to establish a pattern of discrimination at the company.
The only bit of the case that the Sixth Circuit didn’t snuff out is Davis’s disparate-treatment claim arising from 2003, which the panel revived. But according to Abell and Morgan at Paul Hastings, Davis’s lawyers had already withdrawn that claim in a letter to the court in August 2011. Miner Barnhill’s Judson Miner didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
"This was an important and aggressive piece of litigation," said Morgan. "From our perspective, it’s finally over."