On October 1, 1999, twenty-five Latina and Southeast Asian female immigrants once employed as factory workers by NIBCO, Inc. in Fresno, California brought suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California alleging national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA") Cal. Gov't Code § 12940, et. seq. Plaintiffs specifically allege that their former employer used a written English proficiency test, which had nothing to do with their job duties, to terminate their employment. Plaintiffs were represented by a coalition of civil rights organizations and private law firms, which included the Employment Law Center - Legal Aid Society of San Francisco, the ACLU of Northern California, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Asian Law Caucus. They sought reinstatement or front pay, backpay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief.
During discovery, defendants deposed the lead plaintiff Martha Rivera and asked about her immigration status and employment history. Plaintiffs' counsel instructed her not to answer further questions, terminated her deposition, and sought a protective order from the Court. Plaintiffs maintained that the information was irrelevant and its disclosure during the discovery process would chill the plaintiffs' willingness and ability to bring civil rights claims, as they would potentially face removal proceedings if they were found to be undocumented workers. The District Court (Magistrate Judge Sandra Snyder) granted relief to plaintiffs and issued a protective order prohibiting NIBCO from inquiring into the plaintiffs' immigration status and eligibility for employment. The court permitted defendants to ask other indirect questions relating to place of marriage, educational background, current and past employment, but defendants were not allowed to disclose that information to third parties outside of the lawsuit. Rivera v. NIBCO, Inc., 204 F.R.D. 647 (E.D. Cal. 2001), reconsideration denied, 2001 WL 1688880 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 21, 2001).
In the interim, the Supreme Court decided Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137 (2002), holding that the National Labor Relations Board lacked the discretion to award backpay to undocumented workers for violations of the National Labor Relations Act. Defendants filed a supplemental motion for reconsideration based on the Hoffman decision. The District Court then certified the case to allow defendants to pursue an interlocutory appeal.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. While the Court did not decide whether the Hoffman case applied to Title VII claims, it found that the decision did not make immigration status relevant to a finding that an employer engaged in national origin discrimination under Title VII, and therefore the trial court did not abuse its discretion by entering the protective order. Rivera v. NIBCO, 364 F.3d 1057 (9th Cir. 2004). Defendants' petitions for rehearing and rehearing en banc were denied, Rivera v. NIBCO, Inc., 384 F.3d 822 (9th Cir. 2004), as was their petition for a writ of certiorari. NIBCO, Inc. v. Rivera, 544 U.S. 905 (2005).
On remand, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. They also argued over how the case should be presented to a jury. Plaintiffs agreed that any of the plaintiffs who were not legally entitled to work would not seek backpay. In order to comply with the protective order, plaintiffs moved for a bifurcated trial, such that the Court would decide which plaintiffs were entitled to backpay by reviewing evidence in camera. Over the objection of defendants, the Court issued an order bifurcating the trial. Rivera v. NIBCO, Inc., 2006 WL 845925 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2006).
A jury trial began on October 8, 2008 before District Judge Oliver W. Wanger. On November 26, 2008, following twenty-seven days of trial, the jury returned a verdict for the defendants on all counts against all plaintiffs. Plaintiffs appealed the judgment.
On March 29, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. A divided panel held that the District Court had clearly erred in denying plaintiffs' Batson challenge to defendants' use of three of its four peremptory strikes to remove Hispanic jurors. Rivera v. Nibco, Inc., 372 F. App'x 757 (9th Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 906 (2011).
On September 27, 2011, the parties notified the court that they were close to a settlement. On December 6, 2011, a settlement conference was held before Magistrate Judge Snyder. The minute entry notes that a written settlement had been completed, and that "settlement funds [were] to be transmitted soon." The specifics of the settlement agreement do not appear to have been filed with the court. On December 7, 2011, the parties stipulated that the action be dismissed with prejudice; the stipulation was entered the same day.Dan Dalton - 12/03/2007
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