Federal Judge Refuses to Certify Class in Bias Case
A federal judge in Philadelphia has refused to certify a proposed class action against Aramark Corp. brought by a group of black workers who claim they were constantly harassed and unfairly disciplined by their white supervisors. Aramark is the nation's largest provider of outsourcing services. The judge found that common questions among class members don't "predominate" because the suit is seeking both monetary and injunctive relief.
By Shannon P. Duffy|October 30, 2002 at 12:00 AM
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Finding that the plaintiffs had satisfied all four requirements of Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but failed to meet the stricter test of Rule 23(b), a federal judge in Philadelphia has refused to certify a proposed class action suit against Aramark Corp. brought by a group of black workers who claim they were constantly harassed and unfairly disciplined by their white supervisors. In his 20-page opinion in Barabin v. Aramark, U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner found that while the 10 named plaintiffs share some common legal questions with up to 200 other black Aramark workers, those common questions don’t “predominate” because the suit is seeking both monetary and injunctive relief. Instead, Joyner found that since each worker would be seeking damages, there would be too many individual issues to proceed as a class. “It is clear from the complaint that while all of the plaintiffs aver that they were ‘subjected to frequent harassment and unjustified disciplinary sanctions by Caucasian supervisors not imposed on similarly situated Caucasian employees,’ the circumstances under which those acts of discrimination were committed and the resultant injuries are unique to each individual plaintiff,” Joyner wrote. “The plaintiffs’ individual claims for damages would therefore require individualized evaluations and findings of the facts and defenses,” Joyner wrote. As a result, Joyner concluded that “the plaintiffs’ individual claims would predominate over the common issue of whether the disciplinary measures taken against them were discriminatory in nature.” The ruling is a victory for attorneys Jonathan B. Langel, David S. Fryman and Leslie C. Safran of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. The suit was filed in August 2001 by attorneys Joel I. Fishbein of Abrahams Loewenstein & Bushman and Stephen A. Whinston, Jonathan Auerbach and Shanon J. Carson of Philadelphia-based Berger & Montague on behalf of 10 service workers employed by Aramark at the Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia. Philadelphia-based Aramark is the nation’s largest provider of outsourcing services. In 2000, it posted more than $7 billion in revenue. The company ranks 258th on the Fortune 500 list and is the 23rd-largest employer on the list. The suit alleges that the Aramark service workers at Presbyterian — whose jobs include transporting patients, distributing linen and cleaning rooms and floors — are almost all black and that their white managers harass them through “an oppressive pattern of unfair and unjustified discipline.” Four of the named plaintiffs claim they were fired on the basis of fabricated disciplinary charges. The real reason for the firings, the suit says, is that all four had voiced objections to the racially discriminatory discipline. The suit alleges that Aramark employees in other departments at the hospital, who are mostly white, are not subjected to the unfair discipline. Joyner found that the suit easily met all four of the requirements of Rule 23(a) — numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequacy of representation.But Joyner found that the plaintiffs couldn’t clear any of the hurdles of Rule 23(b), which includes predominance. The key problem, Joyner found, is that the suit seeks both injunctive relief and monetary damages for Aramark’s alleged violations of Title VII and Section 1981. Joyner found that “neither the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nor the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide any guidance for determining when injunctive and/or declaratory relief is the primary relief sought in actions such as this one where both injunctive relief and monetary damages are being pursued.” But the 5th Circuit has fashioned a test, Joyner found, and several trial judges within the 3rd Circuit have adopted it. In Allison v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., the 5th Circuit held that “monetary relief predominates in (b)(2) class actions unless it is incidental to requested injunctive or declaratory relief.” Joyner found that “incidental damages,” have been defined as those “that flow directly from liability to the class as a whole on the claims forming the basis of the injunctive or declaratory relief.” In deciding whether damages are “incidental,” Joyner found that courts consider three factors:
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