Class Action Defense Cases–Parra v. Bashas’: Ninth Circuit Reverses Denial Of Class Action Treatment Of Labor Law Class Action’s Pay Discrimination Claim And Remands For Consideration Of Remaining Class Action Factors

Aug 11, 2008 | By: Michael J. Hassen

District Court Erred in Finding Lack of Commonality Among Proposed Class in Labor Law Class Action Alleging Pay Discrimination Ninth Circuit Holds but Remands Class Action to District Court for Further Consideration because Lower Court had not Addressed Remaining Rule 23 Class Action Requirements

Plaintiffs, current and former Hispanic employees Bashas’, filed a putative class action against Bashas’ alleging violations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; specifically, the class action alleged that Bashas’ discriminated against members of the putative class on the basis of their national origin in that their “pay and working conditions [were] based on their national origin.” Parra v. Bashas’, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. July 29, 2008) [Slip Opn., at 9636]. According to the class action complaint, Bashas’ operates 150 grocery stores under the trade names of Bashas’, A.J.’s Fine Foods and Food City, id., at 9637. The demographics of both the patrons and the employees differ substantially; for example, 15% of the Bashas’ and A.J.’s workforce is Hispanic, but 75% of the Food City workforce is Hispanic. Id. The class action alleged that, while the clientele differed, the employee job requirements at the three stores were “practically indistinguishable,” and that in 2003 Bashas’ implemented a program to equalize the pay scales at the stores over a period of time. Id. The class action complaint further alleged that the pay discrepancies ranged from $300-$6000 per year, with Hispanic employees generally receiving less pay than employees at Bashas’ and A.J.’s, id. Plaintiffs moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action; the federal court granted class action treatment with respect to the “working conditions” claim, but ruled that plaintiffs had failed to adequately establish commonality to support class action treatment of the “pay discrimination” claim. Id., at 9636. The Ninth Circuit granted plaintiffs’ request for leave to appeal the district court’s order, id., at 9638, and reversed.

The Circuit Court focused solely on the district court’s conclusion that plaintiffs “failed to establish commonality among the proposed class members for their pay discrimination claim.” Parra, at 9639. To find commonality under Ninth Circuit authority, “‘[t]he existence of shared legal issues with divergent factual predicates is sufficient, as is a common core of salient facts coupled with disparate legal remedies.’” Id., at 9640 (citations omitted). The Court noted at page 9641 that “the district court found past pay disparities for similar jobs at Bashas’, Inc.’s three brand stores,” and that it “noted there significant conclusions conceded by Bashas’, Inc.” – (1) that a higher percentage of its employees work for Food City, (2) that during the relevant time period the pay scale at Food City was lower than at Bashas’ and A.J.’s, and (3) that Hispanic employees were paid a lower hourly rate for similar jobs. The district court found these facts insufficient because ”pay disparities no longer existed at the time the order [denying class action certification] was written.” Id., at 9641. This ruling was error, because the court also should have considered “evidence of past pay disparities and discrimination common to the Hispanic workers at Food City.” Id.

In sum, commonality existed because “even though [class members’] individual factual situations differ…they all seek a common legal remedy for a common wrong.” Parra, at 9642. The Ninth Circuit therefore reversed the district court order denying class action treatment of the complaint’s pay discrimination claim. Id. However, because the district court did not analyze the remaining factors under Rule 23, the Circuit Court remanded the matter for the district court to consider the remaining class action certification requirements, id., at 9642-43.

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