On September 13, 2006, a group of employees filed an amended class action complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (2000) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 29 U.S.C. § 207 and § 216(b) against C.H. Robinson Worldwide in the United States District Court of Minnesota. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court for injunctive, and declaratory relief, as well as actual, liquidated, and punitive damages, alleging that C.H. Robinson practiced sex discrimination. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that C.H. Robinson promoted a hostile work environment for women where they discriminated against in both compensation and promotions; and further, collective action was also taken on allegations that the defendant did not compensate salaried employees for overtime work.
The action started on October 2, 2002, when the Carlson case was filed by a group of twelve female employees. The plaintiffs claimed gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (2000), including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. They also alleged discrimination against salaried employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 29 U.S.C. § 207 and § 216(b). A similar suit brought by both female and male salaried employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 29 U.S.C. § 207 and § 216(b) in the case Johnson v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide.
On November 27, 2002, the two cases were consolidated for discovery and pretrial with respect to the FLSA claims. On May 20, 2003, the Court (Judge Ericksen) granted a joint motion of both cases plaintiffs to maintain the FLSA claims as "collective actions" on behalf of all branch sales, operations and support employees. On June 6, 2003, notices were mailed to all branch sales, operations and support employees. The notices informed these individuals of their right to join the case in order to assert claims for unpaid overtime wages, and almost 300 women joined the Carlson case and over 400 men joined the Johnson case. After a lengthy and contested discovery period, the Court began to decide many of the claims.
On March 31, 2005, the Court (Judge Ericksen) ruled on motions from both the plaintiffs and defendants. The Court dismissed many of the individual claims made from women in the Carlson suit, specifically dismissing claims of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment for the entire class of women. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 758602 WL 11 (D. Minn. 2005). The Court certified two classes of female employees. First, a compensation class, composed of full-time salaried female employees who worked at any CHR branch office at any time since August 17, 2000. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 758602 WL 47 (D. Minn. 2005). The second, a promotion class of women who were employed at any CHR office since August 17, 2000, and have more than two years' experience in a sales and/or operations position. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 758602 WL 47 (D. Minn. 2005). The Court, however, made it clear to sever the issues of liability and declaratory or injunctive relief from Plaintiffs' requests for monetary damages and certified only the issue of liability and request for declaratory or injunctive relief. The Court stated that if liability is established in either the compensation or promotion class, then the Court would consider Plaintiffs' motion to certify the damages phase as a class action. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 758602 WL 16 (D. Minn. 2005).
On April 10, 2006, the day before the trial was supposed to take place, the two parties reached a tentative settlement agreement. With the help of Special Master John Borg acting as a mediator, the two parties settled on all of the claims in the second amended complaint, with the exception of the FLSA claims. At the parties' request the trial proceeded in the liability phase. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 2671105 WL 2 (D. Minn. 2006).
On September 18th, 2006, the Court (Judge Ericksen) approved a joint consent decree. The settlement provided $15 million for damages, costs, and attorney's fees. Up to 1,500 women were eligible to receive compensation. Women who did not file claims still benefited from many aspects of the settlement, but the litigation did not end there as the FLSA claims still had to be addressed.
On September 26, 2006, the Court (Judge Ericksen) ordered that the defendant's motion to decertify plaintiff's claims under the FLSA be granted. The Court, therefore, dismissed the opt-in plaintiffs without predjudice. The order was stayed for 30 days. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 2830015 WL 11 (D. Minn. 2005). According to the Court, the original collective action was allowed to proceed under a "conditional certification" of a representative class. If the District Court "conditionally certifies" the class, putative class members are given notice and the opportunity to "opt-in." The action proceeds as a representative action throughout discovery. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 2830015 WL 3 (D. Minn. 2005). The Court stated when a motion for "decertification" by the defendant usually filed after discovery is largely complete and the matter is ready for trial, at this stage, the Court has much more information on which to base its decision, and makes a factual determination on the similarly situated question. If the claimants are similarly situated, the District Court allows the representative action to proceed to trial. If the claimants are not similarly situated, the District Court decertifies the class, and the opt-in plaintiffs are dismissed without prejudice. The class representatives- i.e. the original plaintiffs-proceed to trial on their individual claims. Carlson et al v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, 2830015 WL 3 (D. Minn. 2005). In this case, the Court did not find plaintiffs to be similarly situated.
Quickly after this decision by the court (Judge Ericksen), 171 women who joined the Carlson case for purposes of asserting their overtime pay claims re-filed separate lawsuits asserting those claims. An order of a multi-district litigation panel transferred all these cases back to the court. On July 3, 2007, the parties filed another joint settlement agreement on the FLSA claims and on July 5, 2007 the Court (Judge Ericksen) approved this agreement. Lastly, on February 20, 2008, the court approved a settlement agreement for the plaintiffs from the Johnson case. The case closed on 07/05/2007.Matthew Aibel - 07/25/2010