On November 25, 1996, a group of African-American, current and former employees of a Chicago manufacturing division filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 105 Stat. 1071 against R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company in United States District Court Northern District of Illinois. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court for injunctive and declaratory relief and damages, alleging that the defendant racially discriminated against the plaintiffs. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that upon closing the Chicago Manufacturing Division (CMD) the defendants choose to transfer only White employees of the CMD to other divisions within the nation-wide company. The plaintiffs also alleged systematic company wide racial discrimination against African-Americans, whereby the defendant kept African-American employees in temporary or part-time positions that received lower pay and fewer benefits, and always fired African-Americans first because they primarily held these types of temporary positions.
A protracted discovery lasting over two years was run primarily by a Magistrate Judge. On February 11, 1999, the Court (Magistrate Judge Levin) recommended that the defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted. While the Court used evidence and arguments surrounding allegations of company-wide discrimination, according to the Court, the thrust of the dispute between the parties surrounds the actual date of the CMD shutdown, as it relates to the statute of limitations surrounding the plaintiffs' Section 1981(b) claim. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 33257839 WL 1 (N.D.I.L. 1999).
The exact date of the CMD shutdown was debated, as certain workers were laid off or left prior to its close, and all work was not transferred until the plant ceased all operations on July 31, 1994. According to the Court (Magistrate Judge Levin), the defendants argued that the applicable limitations period for claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 in Illinois is Illinois' two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. The Court agreed. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 33257839 WL 5 (N.D.I.L. 1999).
The plaintiffs argued several rebuttals to this point. The Court (Magistrate Judge Levin) summarized them as follows: (1) the CMD shutdown was but one of many violations by the defendant of 42 U.S.C. § 1981(b) in its systematic pattern and practice of discrimination (i.e. "continuing violation") against its African-American employees which continued through the litigation; (2) in the alternative, the plaintiffs argued that the appropriate statute of limitations for a Section 1981(b) claim is the four-year statute of limitations stipulated in 28 U.S.C. § 1658; (3) as a second alternative, the plaintiffs argued that the doctrines of equitable estoppel and/or equitable tolling applied for those plaintiffs and class members who were terminated since, at least, November 1992; and therefore those plaintiffs and class members terminated at CMD after November, 1992, should have been allowed to remain in the case. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 33257839 WL 6 (N.D.I.L. 1999).
The Court (Magistrate Judge Levin) did not find any of these arguments persuasive. For one, those acts took place outside of the limitations period and, again, did not allow plaintiffs to rely on the "continuing violation" doctrine. But, as the Court stated, most importantly, Section 1981(b) is the result of a 1991 amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which was passed under the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 33257839 WL 8 (N.D.I.L. 1999). However, while acknowledging the good argument raised by the plaintiff, the Court decided that Section 1658's plain language provides that the four-year limitation period applies only to an act of Congress "enacted" after 1990, as distinguished from "amended." Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 33257839 WL 9 (N.D.I.L. 1999).
On August 17, 1999, the Court (Judge Williams) decided on the Magistrate's recommendations. Most important of these decisions was denying the motion for summary judgment. The Court believed by examining the facts of this case under the summary judgment standard and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor, a reasonable juror could find that the doctrine of equitable tolling applies. The plaintiffs had submitted admissible evidence that Donnelley secretly transferred many of its white employees while terminating its African-American employees during the shutdown of the CMD. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 639180 WL 2 (N.D.I.L. 1999). After more discovery and proceedings under a magistrate, the case back to the District Court Judge.
On April 6, 2001, the Court (Judge Kennelly) made several key rulings. First, the Court consolidated the Jones case with a similar suit against R.R. Donnelley for pretrial purposes. In the other case, Adams v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, the plaintiffs came from a wide range of Donnelley divisions across the country. They alleged in their amended complaint that Donnelley discriminated against its African-American workers in every aspect of their employment since at least 1965. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 336830 WL 1 (N.D.I.L. 2001).
In the other important order, the Court (Judge Kennelly) certified three separate classes, and one class consisted of subclasses that were legally treated as individual classes. First, was a class of all African-Americans who were employed at the CMD and who were discharged during the shutdown of that division and were not transferred to another Donnelley division. Second, was a class of all African-Americans who were employed at the CMD at any time from November 1992 to the present as non-regular employees (including temporary, casual, contract, contingent, task force, etc.). The third was a class of all African-American employees of R.R. Donnelley who worked at (a) the Dwight division; (b) the Pontiac division; (c) the Chicago Financial Division; or (d) the Chicago Manufacturing Division from November 1992 to the present and were subjected to racial harassment so pervasive as to create a hostile working environment ((a), (b), (c), and (d) are each separate subclasses). Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 336830 WL 20 (N.D.I.L. 2001). While the classes were certified, and the case seemed to be going well for the plaintiffs, the decisive issue before the court was still the confusion over the statue of limitations being either two or four years of coverage. Both parties urged the court to resolve this issue before further proceedings.
On June 8, 2001, the Court (Judge Kennelly) ruled that the four-year statute of limitations in § 1658 governs those claims created by the Civil Rights Act of 1991; the state personal injury statute of limitations, which in Illinois is two years, governs those claims created by the pre-1991 version of § 1981. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 149 F.Supp.2d 459 (N.D.I.L. 2001). In essence, the Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, giving them the right to continue the suit under a four year "catch-all" statute of limitations. The defendants appealed the decision.
On September 16, 2002, the United Stated Court of Appeals for the 7th District (Judge Ripple, Judge Kanne, Judge Evans) reversed and remanded the District Court of the Northern District of Illinois' decision. The Appellate Court justified its decision because the 1991 act merely amended the text of the cause of action of § 1981, rather than creating a wholly new cause of action. As such, Congress did not create new legislation in this regard, and thus, the two year statute of limitations should apply. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 305 F.3d 717 (7th Circuit 2002).
On November 1, 2002, the plaintiff's appeal to the 7th Circuit Court for a rehearing en banc was decided on. The Court ruled en banc denying the motion for a retrial.
On March 31, 2003, the parties reached a settlement agreement for the classes of the Adams suit, and the Court (Judge Kennelly) approved the settlement. Thus, all that remained for adjudication were classes one, two and subclass (d) of the third class. As the case was going through its final discovery and pretrial periods, the plaintiffs were waiting on the Supreme Court to possibly hearing their case.
On April 19, 2003, the United States Supreme Court (Judge Rehnquist, Judge Stevens, Judge O'Connor, Judge Scalia, Judge Kennedy, Judge Souter, Judge Thomas, Judge Ginsburg, Judge Breyer) granted the plaintiff's petition for the writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 123 U.S. 2074 (2003).
On May 5, 2004, the United States Supreme Court (Justice Stevens) unanimously reversed and remanded the Court of Appeals ruling. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 541 U.S. 15 (2004). The Court stated that the hostile work environment, wrongful termination, and failure-to-transfer claims all arose under the 1991 Act, in the sense that petitioner's causes of action were made possible by that act. The Supreme Court, therefore, sided with the District Court's interpretation of the statutes. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 541 U.S. 13 (2004).
Soon, after this ruling, the parties moved to settle. On November 20, 2004, the District Court (Judge Hennelly) approved the final settlement, worth a reported $15 million. The case was closed on May 21, 2005.Matthew Aibel - 04/09/2008