Welcome to Critical Mass, Law.com’s new briefing on class actions and mass torts. I’m Amanda Bronstad in Los Angeles. Here’s what’s happening: Ogletree Deakins has become the latest law firm to be sued for gender discrimination. And speaking of workplace discrimination, settlements of class actions in that practice area hit record highs in 2017, according to a study by Seyfarth this month. Also, the judge overseeing the Equifax data breach cautioned plaintiffs lawyers to keep their leadership team in line.
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Ogletree Shareholder Sues Firm for Gender Bias
A shareholder at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart has sued the firm for gender discrimination in a class action alleging $300 million in damages. Here’s Law.com’s Ben Hancock with the story.
Representing Dawn Knepper, the plaintiff, is David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp, who’s also sued Chadbourne & Parke and now-defunct Sedgwick over similar claims.
Ogletree has turned to Nancy Abell of Paul Hastings.
Ben had this to say about the Ogletree case:
“One of the things that struck me about this suit is just how entrenched both sides seem to be. The plaintiff has apparently been complaining of discrimination since 2012, and Sanford Heisler typically tries to settle cases pre-suit. Obviously that wasn’t the case here. Sanford Heisler is also trying to address the arbitration issue head-on rather than wait and go through the usual rigmarole in a motion to compel.”
According to his story, Knepper filed a separate complaint seeking declaratory judgment to avoid just that. Sedgwick and Steptoe & Johnson both filed motions to compel arbitration in similar cases against them (see here and here).
Equifax Judge Counsels Counsel
U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash had some definitive words for lawyers in the Equifax data breach litigation at his first hearing last week in Atlanta, R. Robin McDonald reported for Law.com.
As he did in the Home Depot data breach case, Thrash set up separate tracks for consumers and financial institutions suing over last year’s massive data breach of Equifax. He also set a Feb. 9 hearing for appointments of lead counsel — though he cautioned that a plaintiffs steering committee that’s too large “is unworkable.” Plaintiffs lawyers, he said, must keep time records with “no padding of time and no unnecessary time being racked up just trying to enhance positions when the time comes, if it comes, for fees to be an issue.”
Workplace Class Action Settlements Hit Record High
Seyfarth Shaw‘s annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report (see here) found that top class action settlements reached an all-time record high of $2.72 billion, up by nearly $1 billion in 2016. Here’s Law.com’s Erin Mulvaney with the story.
Much of the rise comes from government enforcement cases that spilled over from the Obama era — but that’s expected to change this year.
One interesting fact: The report found that in wage-and-hour cases, employers won 63 percent of decertification rulings, a 20 percent increase from 2016. Seyfarth Shaw partner Gerald Maatman Jr., author of the report, told Erin that’s because defense attorneys had gotten more polished in their arguments. “What keeps a CEO or general counsel up at night is not the threat of EEOC or private discrimination cases,” he said. “What keeps them up at night is these large-scale wage and hour class action suits.”
Wells Fargo Loses Execs
Embattled Wells Fargo lost three executives this month, including deputy general counsel Deanna Lindquist, who oversaw human resources and other matters. Here’s the story from Law.com’s Sue Reisinger.
Wells Fargo has been embroiled in a scandal in which its employees opened 3.5 million fake accounts using customer information. The bank settled a class action for $142 million, but last fall upped its original estimate of 2.1 million affected accounts – leading to a delay in the settlement’s approval.
On Jan. 19, plaintiffs attorneys are due to file their motion for final approval and fees, with a March 22 hearing.
Here’s what else you need to know today:
Investor Losses: Goldman Sachs and Northern Oil and Gas scored wins in shareholder class actions. Law.com’s Colby Hamilton has stories here and here.On Friday, the 2nd Circuit vacated class certification in the Goldman Sachs case filed over the short positions made famous by the film “The Big Short.” Northern Oil also won dismissal of a securities case brought over its code of conduct and ethics of its executives, one of whom faced U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissionviolations.
Adding Some Securities. The Rosen Law Firm has announced a partnership with civil rights attorney Ben Crump to help institutional investors bring securities fraud cases. Ben Crump Law, based in Tallahassee, Florida, will work with Larry Rosen’s New York securities firm to monitor the portfolios of public pension funds, labor unions and others, bringing lawsuits if needed. Crump, who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, teamed with Morgan & Morgan last year when he launched his own firm. (See here.)
Unattended Bags? The family of a woman who was shot and killed by a shooter at a Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport baggage claim last year has sued Delta, among others. Here’s law.com’s story. Apparently, the complaint, filed by attorney David Di Pietro, isn’t a quick read: It has 17 counts and runs 226 pages. It levels particular blame on Delta. Here’s why: The airline’s staff allegedly paged shooter Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, who had gotten in an argument on an earlier flight, to retrieve his gun from a service counter, rather than place it on the baggage terminal. Di Pietro asks: “Why would Delta hand over a firearm with ammunition in a crowded terminal to someone who they knew to be unruly, disruptive and argumentative?”