In 2016, Valeant settled with 225 female sales representatives who had been subjected to “unwelcome sexually-charged ‘jokes’ and commentary, name-calling, and offensive stereotypical comments about women, pregnancy, and caregiving,” expected to drink alcohol, socialize with and tolerate sexual advances from co-workers, denied promotions and paid less than their male counterparts.
That same year, BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair settled with female shipyard workers for horribly discriminatory practices, which in addition to relegating women to lower-level jobs and denying promotions, also created a work environment where managers and supervisors often “shared or displayed sexual photographs at work while making sexual comments,” “frequently and regularly us[ed] the words ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ to refer to women, and discuss what they did sexually with women, including graphic descriptions of sex acts.” Victims who spoke out faced retaliation and termination.
What did these cases have in common? They were both class action lawsuits. And both resulted in compensation for the plaintiffs and significant policy changes at those companies. Medicis/Valeant agreed to pay class members $4.4 million and institute extensive new company training and protocols as well as fairer compensation and promotion processes. BAE agreed to $3 million in class relief as well as to “changes in workplace policies and procedures, including the implementation of relief addressing BAE’s hiring, promotion, training, and complaint investigation process.”
These and other cases can be found in the Center for Justice & Democracy’s newly-updated survey of recent class action settlements, First Class Relief 2017: How Class Actions Benefit Those Who Are Injured, Defrauded And Violated. The report updates CJ&D’s 2014 report, First Class Relief, and describes important class actions that corporations have settled in recent months for financial fraud and abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination, price-fixing and product injuries. In March 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would make it impossible for class actions like these to proceed.
Now, on Wednesday November 8, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing to examine so-called “lawsuit abuse.” The focus is apparently on whether the legal rights of individuals and small businesses to file class actions and other kinds of cases should be taken away. This comes just weeks after Congress took the extraordinary step of undoing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule that would have allowed defrauded and cheated individuals to file class actions against financial institutions that violate the law, like Wells Fargo and Equifax.
Class action lawsuits are among the most important tools for sexually harassed, cheated and harmed individuals and small businesses to hold large corporations and institutions accountable and deter future misconduct. Voters did not send politicians to Washington DC to take away their fundamental legal rights. The House may not have quite understood that. We hope the Senate does.