Stacie B. Royster, Lawyers’ Committee
Tom Orewyler, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
(New York, NY) – On July 21, 2015, a federal court signed an order approving an estimated $12 million settlement of back pay claims for black and Hispanic sheet metal workers in litigation against their union. These minority members of Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, the trade union for sheet metal workers in New York City, suffered underemployment from 1991 to 2006. The foundation for this settlement was an earlier contempt ruling against Local 28, ordered by the late United States District Court Judge Robert L. Carter.
The case, E.E.O.C. v. Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, 71 Civ. 2877 (LAK), was filed in 1971 by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the New York State Division of Human Rights, and the City of New York. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) replaced the Department of Justice as prosecuting counsel in 1974. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP intervened in the case in 2003 on behalf of aggrieved minority members and successfully moved for the case to be certified as a class action.
Following a fairness hearing held on July 14, 2015, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted approval of the back pay settlement. Pursuant to the settlement, Local 28 will provide compensation to black and Hispanic members to settle claims for wages lost during the period April 1, 1991 to June 30, 2006.
The settlement includes an initial fund of approximately $4.2 million for nearly 400 class members. Local 28 will then make additional payments for five years, linked to the number of hours worked by Local 28’s members. It is estimated that total payments will reach approximately $12.7 million at the end of the five-year period, assuming that Local 28’s work levels remain at or near recent levels throughout that period. This settlement supplements a 2008 settlement of $6.2 million, which covered back pay claims from January 1, 1984 through March 31, 1991.
Local 28 has also agreed to reforms designed to equalize work opportunities for nonwhite and white union members. These include improved monitoring and investigation of discrimination complaints, an expansion of the use of the union’s referral hall to guarantee non-discriminatory hiring decisions, increased education and training opportunities for members, and increased monitoring, analysis, and reporting of potential work hours disparities by the union.
The settlement was achieved after extensive negotiations with the union by the Lawyers’ Committee and Debevoise, on behalf of the class of underemployed black and Hispanic union members, along with the EEOC, the New York State Division of Human Rights, and the City of New York. The Court-appointed Special Master, David Raff, also had significant input into the final terms of the settlement and the enhanced injunctive reforms.
“The local union has agreed to provide substantial payments to its minority members who lost so much due to traditional patterns of discrimination,” said Ray P. McClain, director of the Employment Discrimination Project of the Lawyers’ Committee. “This is a major step in bringing this decades-long litigation to a conclusion, for the union and all its members – a step that would not have been possible without the tireless dedication of our co-counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton, who have spent countless hours working pro bono on behalf of our clients in the union.”
“This settlement grows out of longstanding efforts to obtain compensation for class members who were harmed by disparities in work opportunities between Local 28’s white and nonwhite members,” said Wendy B. Reilly, counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. “We are very pleased that the class will receive meaningful back pay this year and for the next five years as a result of this settlement.”
“I am pleased that we have been able to negotiate this partial settlement that includes strong injunctive relief as well as individual relief,” said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. “This case demonstrates EEOC’s longstanding commitment to achieving equal access to jobs regardless of race.”
EEOC New York Regional Attorney Robert D. Rose said, “This partial settlement of EEOC’s longstanding litigation against Local 28 is a big step forward for black and Hispanic sheet metal workers. The EEOC will continue to enforce the court orders in this case until full and lasting equality for those workers is realized.”
“This is an important and long-awaited day for African-American and Latino members of Local 28,” said Kristen Clarke, Civil Rights Bureau Chief at the New York State Office of the Attorney General. “Attorney General Schneiderman is pleased with the partial settlement and remains committed to advancing equal employment opportunities across New York State.”
“This is another big victory in the decades-long process to end discrimination against black and Hispanic members of Local 28 and restore their lost wages,” said Joshua Rubin, senior counsel at the New York City Law Department. “The City will continue to press for non-discriminatory practices and a final resolution of the case.”
“This agreement was reached through the collaborative efforts of the plaintiffs and the leadership of Local 28, headed by newly elected President and Business Manager Kevin Connors, in conjunction with Special Master David Raff, as well as the members of the class and other members of Local 28,” said Daniel Clifton, the attorney for Local 28. “Local 28 looks forward to the continuing cooperation of all parties in an effort to provide equal work opportunities for all of its members,” added Clifton.