On March 16, 2001, an African-American employee of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority ("WASA") filed this class action lawsuit against WASA on behalf of himself as well as current and former black employees under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory damages, claiming that the defendant engaged in race discrimination through its hiring and promotion practices. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that in 1996 the defendant adopted an at-will employment system that allowed managers to hire or promote their chosen candidates or to inflate those candidates' scores. With this new system in place, the plaintiff claimed that African-American employees encountered a "glass ceiling" that prevented them from obtaining the same positions as similarly situated white employees and from advancing as rapidly as those employees. The plaintiff alleged in particular that black employees were hired at the lowest levels of the agency, were forced to wait longer than white employees for promotions, and were often skipped over for promotions in favor of equally experienced white employees. The plaintiff sought to certify a class consisting of all African-American employees who applied for and were denied positions or promotions at WASA from October 1996 through December 2000.
The defendant moved to dismiss the case on May 21, 2001, claiming that because the plaintiffs requested compensatory damages and a jury trial in addition to injunctive relief, they could not, as a matter of law, satisfy the requirements for class certification under FRCP 23(b). The District Court (Judge Henry H. Kennedy) denied the motion, explaining that the D.C. Circuit had adopted an "ad-hoc approach" to the issue and that the case law did not regard compensatory damages claims or a request for a jury trial as per se incompatible with class certification under 23(b). Taylor v. Dist. of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth.
, 205 F.R.D. 43, 51-52 (D.D.C. 2002).
The parties then engaged in a lengthy discovery battle. On March 13, 2007, the District Court (Judge Kennedy) certified the class as to liability under FRCP 23(b) for injunctive and declaratory relief, but it postponed any certification as to damages. Taylor v. Dist. of Columbia Water & Sewer Auth.,
241 F.R.D. 33, 48 (D.D.C. 2007). The defendant appealed this ruling, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Judge Karen L. Henderson) denied the petition as untimely on April 3, 2009. In re D.C. Water & Sewer Auth.
, 561 F.3d 494 (D.C. Cir. 2009).
The plaintiffs moved to enlarge the class period on November 14, 2007, and the District Court (Judge Kennedy) denied this motion in an unpublished order on February 7, 2008. The parties then continued disputing the class composition and notice procedures until August 25, 2009, when the District Court (Judge Kennedy) acceded to the parties' request and issued a stipulation and order approving the class notice and directing issuance of the notice to class members.
On November 30, 2010, at the parties' request, the District Court (Judge Kennedy) issued an order referring the case for alternative dispute resolution. The parties eventually reached an agreement and submitted a proposed settlement for approval on March 23, 2013.
The District Court (Judge Barbara J. Rothstein) issued an order, on March 28, 2013, approving the class settlement. The Court announced that, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes
, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), it was vacating the class certification under FRCP 23(b)(2) and recertifying the class under 23(b)(3). The approved class had 1,037 members, consisting of all African-American employees who worked for the defendant between October 1, 1996, and December 31, 2000.
Under the terms of the agreement, WASA transmitted $2,885,000 to a claims administrator, with $1.9 million set aside for the payment of claims and the remaining funds to be used for attorneys' fees, litigation costs, and a service award to the lead plaintiff. The settlement also included substantial non-monetary relief. Under the agreement, WASA is forbidden from retaliating against any class members for their involvement in the litigation, and it must provide employees with a written statement of its commitment to equal employment opportunity and post a copy of this policy in common areas of the workplace. WASA must also conduct a mandatory diversity and equal employment opportunity training for all employees and take measures to ensure that employees understand their obligations to identify and report violations of the policies. WASA further agreed to develop and implement complaint procedures and a complaint tracking system, as well as a voluntary affirmative action program. A settlement compliance monitor will oversee and report on WASA's implementation of the agreement, and WASA agreed to submit reports for the monitor's review. Finally, WASA agreed to create an internal implementation team as well as institute an annual review of pay and data practices to ensure that any racial disparities in pay are due to legitimate and non-discriminatory factors.
On March 16, 2015, the District Court (Judge Rothstein), after receiving a letter from class members who claimed that they had not yet been paid their monetary award, issued an order requiring the parties to provide a status report. Plaintiffs' counsel responded on March 18 and explained that there had been a delay because WASA inadvertently omitted several people from the list of eligible class members it prepared for the claims administrator. Further compounding this delay, plaintiffs' counsel stated that his co-counsel has been preparing a motion to advise the court on how the administrator calculated the payouts to individual class members. The money will not be disbursed until this motion is filed.
As of March 19, 2015, there has been no further activity in this docket.Eric Weiler - 08/03/2010
Brian Tengel - 03/15/2015