Barry Macey of Indianapolis and I have been working for years on a nationwide Title VII sex discrimination suit against Consolidated Freightways for discrimination against women applying for jobs requiring the driving of a truck. My favorite story involves the hiring of a husband-and-wife team for over-the-road hauling. While the company had to take the wife in order to get the husband, they showed what they thought of her by requiring only her, during the 12-driver orientation class, to demonstrate that she knew how to put chains on a truck tire. All well and good, but the tire was mounted on an twelve-foot pole she had to shinny up. The tire was mounted horizontally. She did it, and then she and her husband walked out.
Like other unionized trucking companies, CF had difficulty competing with non-union operations, many of which pay their drivers a fraction of the Teamsters rates and provide few or no benefits.
The company declared bankruptcy on Labor Day, 2002, a couple of weeks before we were to file our motion for class certification. My former firm, Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, public-spiritedly continued to prosecute the case after CF’s bankruptcy through my departure on June 1, 2005, and I am grateful to it.
We filed a class proof of claim in bankruptcy court, key-punched the names and addresses of all applicants we knew were women, took testing records from two contractors of the company, hired an expert to identify first names that were virtually always held by males, and sent our own informal notice to about everyone else who applied (about five thousand persons), with information on what the records showed, an explanation of the claim, an explanation of bankruptcy procedures, and a fill-in-the-blanks affidavit for applicants who were female, supporting the class, appointing me as their attorney in fact, and directing me to file an individual claim on their behalf in case the bankruptcy court did not certify the class. All told, the four plaintiffs were joined by 189 other timely claimants. That critical mass allowed us to negotiate with the other side.
Keeping track of over-the-road truckers presents special challenges, because they earn very low pay, are sometimes home for only a few days in a calendar quarter, and move from city to city and state to state fairly often. Fir five years, I’ve been sending them update letters, and taking a lot of calls.
We ultimately settled the case for an agreed valuation of four million dollars, to be paid at 15% of the estimated value ($600,000), payable in one lump sum rather than the six to seven years other unsecured creditors will be paid over.
Most of the post-bankruptcy work was pro bono, because we limited our fees and expenses to 40%, and that was not even enough to reimburse the out-of-pocket expenses incurred before the bankruptcy filing.
BUT, we obtained $360,000 for the plaintiffs and their class, with each of the named plaintiffs receiving $5,000, the class members who submitted declarations or were deposed receiving $2,500, the 180 other women who filed timely claims each receiving $1,533, and the 19 women who missed the bankruptcy deadline for filing proofs of claim receiving $1,000 each. No class members opted out, and only one filed an objection.
Would that it the relief had been greater, but the plaintiffs and class members have had to work hard for every dollar they’ve ever earned and even these amounts are enough to make a difference in some of their lives.
The Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California held its hearing on final approval by telephone, and the objector participated by telephone. The court granted final approval, and the funds were distributed in May 2007.
Two Lessons Learned:
# 1. Bankruptcy claims can sometimes have real value, if we do persevere.
# 2. Still, solvent defendants are best.
Note: Past results are no guarantee of future results, because the outcome of cases depends on the facts and the law applicable to those cases.
Note for Alabama residents: The State Bar requires the following statement: “No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.”
Richard T. Seymour
Law Office of Richard T. Seymour, P.L.L.C.
1150 Connecticut Avenue N.W., Suite 900
Washington, D.C. 20036-4129
Facsimile: 800-805-1065 and 202-828-4130
e-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: www.rickseymourlaw.com