The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hoped to show that Bloomberg LP retaliated against employees who took maternity leave. Instead, the federal agency once again finds itself in the hot seat over its litigation conduct.
Southern District Judge Loretta Preska, in EEOC v. Bloomberg, 07 civ. 8383, dismissed the vast majority of the EEOC's pregnancy bias claims against Bloomberg in twin rulings issued on Monday. She encouraged Bloomberg to seek attorney fees from the EEOC, ruling that the agency fell down on its obligation to provide Bloomberg with notice of the claims against it and give it an opportunity to settle. The ruling is a win for defense lawyers including Thomas Golden of Willkie Farr & Gallagher and Eric Dreiband of Jones Day.
The case dates back to the mid-2000s, when a handful of Bloomberg employees complained to the EEOC that they were demoted or otherwise discriminated against after returning from maternity leave. The EEOC and Bloomberg were unable to resolve the matter out of court, so the agency brought suit in 2007. It sought to represent a large class of female Bloomberg employees, arguing that the company engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination. The New York Times wrote two years ago that the case "threatened the reputation of the company."
In August 2010, Preska narrowed the class action on the grounds that the EEOC didn't make a good faith effort to try to settle with Bloomberg before suing. She called the agency's approach "pony up or face a lawsuit." Preska killed off the remainder of the class action in August 2011, ruling that Bloomberg "did not reduce the responsibilities of women returning from maternity leave any more than those of those who took similarly lengthy leaves."
Blocked from bringing its class-wide pattern or practice claims, the EEOC pursued the case on behalf of 35 individual alleged victims. Six of those 35 claimants had filed complaints with the EEOC. The other 29 alleged victims, known as the "non-intervenor claimants," were identified by the EEOC during discovery.
Preska dismissed 34 of the 35 claimants from the case in Monday's rulings. One of the rulings dealt with the six claimants who filed EEOC charges, while the other dealt with the 29 non-intervenor claimants. In the latter decision, Preska dismissed all of them in a single swoop—not because their claims were necessarily meritless, but because the EEOC "abdicate[d] its statutory responsibility to provide sufficient notice and pursue a pre-suit resolution in good faith." As evidence of that conclusion, she cited the EEOC's decision to bring bias claims against Bloomberg less than 10 days after receiving a list from the company of all employees who took maternity leave.
Preska's ruling comes one month after a federal judge in Iowa City, Iowa, ordered the EEOC to pay $4.6 million in attorney fees and costs to a trucking company called CRST Van Expedited Inc. Like Bloomberg, CRST and its lawyers at Jenner & Block were able to dodge discrimination claims and seek fees because of the EEOC's lack of pre-suit investigation. The agency has also suffered litigation mishaps recently in cases against Kaplan Inc. and Freeman Companies.
Bloomberg CEO Daniel Doctoroff said in a statement that the ruling "confirms that this case should not have been brought in the first place."
The EEOC's press office didn't immediately return a request for comment on the ruling.
@|Jan Wolfe is a reporter for the Litigation Daily, a Law Journal affiliate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.