Class Action Lawsuit: Courts Denying Brooklyn Homeowners Facing Foreclosure Opportunity For Legal Representation

BROOKLYN – Today, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Yolande I. Nicholson, P.C., Mehri & Skalet PLLC, and Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP, filed a class action lawsuit against the Office of Court Administration and justices of the Kings County Supreme Court for failing to implement a state law requiring courts to assess if homeowners who are facing foreclosure and cannot afford an attorney should be appointed free legal representation.

In 2017, homeowners of color in New York City were more than twice as likely to receive pre-foreclosure notices—the first step in foreclosure proceedings.

“Courts are putting vulnerable families at risk of exploitation and permanent displacement from their homes and communities,” said Terry Ding, staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Having an attorney can mae a significant difference for homeowners facing foreclosure. With this lawsuit, we want to ensure New Yorkers have a fighting chance to save their homes. Because New Yorkers of color have long been the targets of housing discrimination, including redlining and predatory lending practices, they are overrepresented in foreclosure cases. Enforcing legal protections for homeowners in foreclosure proceedings is a racial justice imperative.”

Read the full article from Black Star News.

Valeant Unit Settles Sex Discrimination Claims For $7.2M

Law360, Los Angeles (July 12, 2016, 4:56 PM EDT) — Valeant-owned Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. will pay $7.2 million to settle a class action alleging gender discrimination and other claims brought by female sales representatives of the medical cosmetics company, according to a final settlement order signed by a D.C. federal judge Monday. Continue reading

Former Marshalls assistant managers sue TJX Cos.

Two former assistant store managers who worked at Marshalls have filed suit in US District Court in Massachusetts against The TJX Companies and related entities, alleging that the company violates wage and hour laws.
The suit, filed Dec. 11, names Marshalls of MA, Inc.; Marmaxx Operating Corp., doing business as Marshalls HomeGoods; Marshalls; T.J. Maxx HomeGoods; and HomeGoods, Inc. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status and are seeking compensation for allegedly unpaid wages, damages and attorney’s fees.
According to the suit, Celina Roberts worked an assistant store manager at Marshall’s in Laredo, Texas. She was hired in May 2008 and promoted in June to the assistant manager position, the suit states. Roberts worked 60 to 70 hours a week and often worked six or seven days a week, according to the suit. As an assistant store manager, she did not receive overtime for working more than 40 hours, the suit said.
Her work was “largely unrelated to the management of the store,” the suit alleges. Rather, Roberts on a daily basis stocked merchandise, cleaned, worked the register, unloaded delivery trucks and the like, the suit alleges.
Roberts alleges she complained to the store manager and to a district manager that she should be paid for the hours she was working and said that, if she had known she would end up working as many hours as an assistant manager, she would have remained a back room coordinator, “performing almost identical duties, and receiving overtime pay,” the suit states.
Plaintiff Anthony Sciotto was hired as an operations assistant store manager at Marshalls in Westbury, N.Y., the suit states, and worked at various other Marshalls locations in New York. The suit alleges that Sciotto worked a minimum of 10 hours a day, five days a week, and at times, up to 70 hours a week.
Like Roberts, the suit alleges, Sciotto largely was not performing managerial duties and was instead performing routine tasks such as stocking merchandise, unloading trucks “and other duties typically expected of hourly employees.”
Sciotto and other assistant store managers “had to perform such non-exempt duties because there were an insufficient number of hourly employees available to perform such tasks,” the suit said.
The suit alleges that Marshalls and HomeGoods stores operate under the same corporate policies and all assistant managers share the same uniform job descriptions.
A spokeswoman for The TJX Companies declined comment, citing company policy regarding pending litgiation.
The lawsuit in Massachusetts mirrors a separate case against T.J. Maxx in U.S. District Court for Eastern New York, which was filed in early 2011 by a former assistant manager in New York. Last November, a federal court judge in New York granted conditional certification for a collective action lawsuit, which is similar to a class-action suit, in that case.
The Massachusetts case against focuses on Marshalls and HomeGoods, rather than T.J. Maxx, but makes similar allegations against the Framingham company.
– Staff Writer Mary Moore, Boston Business Journal
Read the original article from Boston Business Journal here

$4M Settlement Awarded in Sara Lee Discrimination Case

Federal attorneys with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today announced a $4 million settlement for former workers at the now closed Sara Lee factory in Paris.
The settlement is said to be the largest in the history of the EEOC in Dallas involving a hostile work environment.
This past Febuary, the EEOC released its findings, the results of a two year investigation into complaints.
It found violations of civil rights, that black employees suffered intimidation, racial taunts such as being called the ‘N’ word,  and graffiti, and were steered into hazardous areas of the plant, exposing them to toxic materials.
More than two dozen workers from the now-shut down baking factory are part of the federal lawsuit.
Sara Lee, now a  subsidiary of Tyson, sent CBS11 a statement saying in part they’re “committed to treating team members with dignatiy and respect and have a policy against harassment and discrimination.”
While the company says it doesn’t agree with all of the allegations in this case, it believes it makes sense to resolve this matter.
– Originally published in CBS DFW
Read original article from CBS DFW

The EEOC and Sara Lee: A Landmark Discrimination Case in Texas

After a two year investigation into complaints of civil rights and health violations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a $4 million settlement for former employees at the Sara Lee factory located in Paris, Texas. This case marks the largest settlement in EEOC history involving a hostile work environment. The EEOC took on the case after twenty-five workers filed complaints against the company during their time at the now-shuttered factory, which closed in 2011. Attorneys now estimate that over seventy employees stand to benefit from the settlement. In addition to financial reparations, the company will be required to implement measures to prevent workplace discrimination and to submit regular reports to the EEOC. Read on for a look inside the landmark case.


The EEOC’s two year investigation found that black employees were targets of intimidation and were denied promotions that went to their white peers. Black employees reported racial slurs and graffiti during their time at the factory, incidents which were corroborated by the EEOC. A lawsuit filed separately from the EEOC complaint revealed that the graffiti included racial slurs, threats, and crude drawings of apes and black men with nooses. A large portion of the alleged abuse came from white supervisors within the factory and several Sara Lee officials have been accused of ignoring complaints from black employees about the conditions within the factory. In addition, workers were reportedly exposed to black mold asbestos and other toxins during their daily work. The working conditions were so hazardous that:

One of the cake lines was nicknamed the ‘cancer line,’ because so many people were getting sick, said Sara Kane, one of the workers’ attorneys, of the law office Valli, Kane & Vagnini.

According to the investigation, black employees were exposed to these conditions while their white colleagues were promoted to positions located in safer areas of the factory. These white employees were allegedly often less-experienced than their black co-workers but they received promotions nevertheless.
According to the EEOC’s report, several black employees contracted cancer and other diseases as a direct result to their exposure to toxins in the workplace. When black employees reported their diseases to management, their complaints were either ignored or dismissed as being unrelated to working conditions within the factory. The closure of the factory in 2011 meant that the EEOC had relatively limited exposure to the physical conditions of the factory, so the investigation did rely heavily on interviews with employees.


The EEOC enforces federal laws against discrimination in most companies with 15 employees or more (although this can vary according to certain jurisdictions and circumstances). The EEOC processes both private sector and federal sector violations of discrimination laws, although it takes a more active investigative role in private sector cases. There are two distinct private sector and a federal sector mediation programs, which each offer dispute resolution with EEOC cooperation. If conciliation cannot resolve a private sector dispute, the EEOC has the right to pursue litigation and also has a right to participate in an ongoing lawsuit. According to the EEOC website,

The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. Our role in an investigation is to fairly and accurately assess the allegations in the charge and then make a finding. If we find that discrimination has occurred, we will try to settle the charge. If we aren’t successful, we have the authority to file a lawsuit to protect the rights of individuals and the interests of the public. We do not, however, file lawsuits in all cases where we find discrimination.

The EEOC may handle tens of thousands of complaints every year, but they very rarely escalate to the heights that the Sara Lee case has, which makes the future of Sara Lee critically important. If Sara Lee complies with the EEOC regulations and actively changes its workplace environment in the coming years, it will serve as a model for other companies that have had large-scale reports of discrimination. The successful transformation of the Sara Lee case will lie with its parent company–Tyson Foods.


In 2012, so chronologically after the alleged abuse occurred, Sara Lee went through a major re-branding, effectively splitting the business in two. The food side of the business was labeled Hillshire Brands while the tea and coffee end of the company (centered in Europe) was named D.E. Master Blenders 1753. The name change was speculated to have been prompted by lackluster sales of meat products.
In 2014, Hillshire Brands completed a merger with Tyson Foods, Inc. which The Wall Street Journal referred to as the “meat industry’s biggest deal.” After the merger, Hillshire’s chief executive Sean Connolly stepped down, clearing the way for new leadership. However, the Sara Lee discrimination case did not disappear with the name change. Although headlines associate the case with Sara Lee, Tyson is now liable for the settlement and for rebuilding the brand’s image in the wake of the EEOC investigation. In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Tyson Foods spokesperson Worth Sparkman said the company is

‘Committed to treating our team members with dignity and respect and have a policy against harassment and discrimination,’ noting Tyson Foods requires annual training and offers a toll-free help line for workers to report any concerns without fear of retaliation. ‘While we don’t agree with all of the allegations in this case, we oppose any unlawful discrimination in the workplace and believe it makes sense to resolve this matter,’ Sparkman wrote in an email. When asked which allegations the company disagrees with Sparkman said, via email, ‘We’ll point out that any alleged conduct in this case occurred before portions of Sara Lee were acquired by Tyson Foods in 2014.’

The Tyson brand has also had a series of legal skirmishes over working conditions over the past few years. This November, the Supreme Court heard a case against Tyson in which employees argued that Tyson unlawfully failed to pay for the time it took them to put on and then remove safety equipment during their daily tasks. In a lower court, employees were awarded half of what their counsel requested. The case has raised interesting questions about collective action lawsuits, as the case involves more than 3,000 workers in total: Should that many employees be allowed to file their complaint at one time, in a single case?
The Supreme Court has approached the case less as an issue of wage violations and more as a debate over what the threshold should be for the number of participants in a collective action lawsuit. Yet, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the employees, Tyson may pay out even more than they did in the Sara Lee case–approximately $6 million.


The Sara Lee case is a unique one in that a significant number of workers were courageous enough to file complaints and patient enough to wait for the legislative process to work over several years. Not every discrimination case is investigated by the EEOC, either because there is not sufficient evidence or because victims do not feel safe reporting misconduct. Hopefully, the Sara Lee case will inspire other companies to enact preventative measures to disband discrimination. The EEOC has delivered a decisive victory for the employees of the Texas factory, we’ll have to see what effects it might have in future discrimination cases.
Staff Writer Jillian Sequeira, Law Street Media
Read original article in Law Street Media

EEOC: $4M settlement sends message that work discrimination won’t be tolerated

Federal attorneys with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Tuesday that a $4 million settlement for former workers at the now closed Sara Lee factory in Paris, Texas, sends a message to employers that workplace discrimination and dangerous work environments won’t be tolerated.

Black employees suffered intimidation, racial taunts including being called the ‘N’ word, and racist graffiti on the walls of bathrooms and the locker room at the plant in Paris, Suzanne Anderson, supervisory trial attorney with the EEOC, said at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Dallas. In addition, the former bakery employees were required to work in hazardous areas of the plant, exposing them to toxic materials, she said.

 Hillshire Brands Co., which formerly owned Sara Lee, will pay a total of $4 million to a group of 74 African American former employees and take other steps to settle the lawsuit.
Human resources professionals and employment lawyers especially should take note of the settlement, Jay Ellwanger, an Austin attorney for workers who had filed a civil suit before the EEOC filed its case, told me in an interview before the news conference.
The Paris plant was a Sara Lee factory for decades, Ellwanger said. Hillshire Brands, which owned the Sara Lee brand, sold the brand to Bimbo Bakeries, but closed the Paris plant instead of selling it to Sara Lee. So Bimbo Bakeries currently owns Sara Lee, but Hillshire Brands owns the liabilities from the plant, and Tyson Foods has since acquired Hillshire Brands, Ellwanger said.
He said he does not know whether the discrimination allegations and pending litigation factored into the decision to sell the Paris plant.
“We certainly had our suspicions,” Ellwanger said. “The timing was suspect.”
The 74 former Sara Lee employees received varying amounts, and they have all received their checks from the company, Anderson told me in an interview after the conference
The two-year consent decree settling the case provides for an injunction under which Hillshire will implement anti-discrimination or harassment programs and conduct training to prevent and promptly address graffiti in other Texas plants it owns.

Sara Wyn Kane, a New York attorney who represented the clients in the lawsuit, said the takeaway for employers is that it’s never acceptable to treat people differently based on the color of their skin, nor is it acceptable to allow others to do so. She said that job site discrimination and harassment continues to be a significant problem at large and small companies nationwide.

“As an employer, you have an obligation to make sure that people can come to work free of discrimination, and free of fearing for their health and safety,” Kane said. “If you see that or learn about it, you need to stop it as an employer. You can’t sit back and hope it goes away or think that it’s OK.”

The settlement is the largest in the history of the EEOC in Dallas involving a hostile work environment.

-Staff Writer Bill Heathcock, Dallas Business Journal 

Post Wal-Mart Ruling in U.S. v. City of New York

In the case of U.S. v. City of New York, United States District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, in the Eastern District of New York, rejected defendant New York City’s attempt to de-certify a class of black firefighters in their suit alleging race discrimination in hiring procedures. The City unsuccessfully relied on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Wal Mart v. Dukes, in which the Court more strictly limited the parameters for certifying class actions.
The Supreme Court held in Wal-Mart that there must be a “common question” of law or fact that “must be of such a nature that it is capable  of class-wide resolution—which means that determination of its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of each one of the claims in one stroke.” In U.S. v. City of New York, the court found there to be four common questions, which are “whether Defendants” uses of [the written examinations] had a disparate impact upon black applicants for the position of entry-level firefighter; whether Defendants’ uses of those examinations were job related to the position in question and consistent with business necessity; whether alternative practices that satisfy the asserted business necessity without disparate effect are available; and whether Defendants engaged in a pattern or practice amounting to intentional discrimination.” Importantly, this court also cites to a 2nd Circuit case from 2006, finding that “for purposes of Rule 23(a)(2) [class certification] even a single common question will do.”
Why were the plaintiffs in this case permitted to maintain their class status, while the plaintiffs in Wal-Mart lost theirs? It boils down to the breadth of the scope of the class. In Wal-Mart, the class was essentially every woman, regardless of position or geographic location, employed by a company that has many different classes of employee, ranging from greeters paid on an hourly basis to salaried managers. The Wal-Mart court essentially found that there was not a common issue of law or fact between a store greeter working in a rural Arkansas location and an assistant store manager working in a Californian urban location, especially given the lack of evidence in that case.
Judge Garaufis in this particular case was confronted with no such issue. The class was limited to only black firefighters and firefighter applicants who sat for one of two specific written exams, and who were harmed by the City’s use of a pass/fail screening device with specific cutoff scores or a method of rank-order processing. Compared with the very broad class in Wal-Mart, which included all women who were harmed by a vague and lightly-evidenced “culture” of sexist discrimination, the class considered in this case is very narrowly tailored and easily meets the statutory requirements.
This case is likely the first of many that will demonstrate that Wal-Mart applies most forcefully to cases that push the boundary in terms of how broad a class should be. For the majority of class actions that specify classes based on specific and tailored criteria, Wal-Mart should not pose a major threat to plaintiffs going forward.