Female employees of West Publishing Company filed a class action in U.S. District Court, alleging that the company issued stock to employees on a discriminatory basis, with a disproportionate amount of male employees owning stock. The employee stock program relied on a secretive and subjective process controlled solely by the CEO's discretion, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs filed their complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida (Judge Richard A. Lazzara, referrals to Magistrate Judges Mark A. Pizzo and Elizabeth A. Jenkins.) A copy of the complaint is not publicly available. However, according to an opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the plaintiffs filed claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). Carter v. West Publishing Company,
225 F.3d 1258 (11th Cir. 2000).
The plaintiffs alleged that before Thomson Reuters acquired West, the company offered its stock to a select number of employees. Every year, West would issue a number of new shares based on its performance. The CEO would choose 10 to 20 first-time shareholders based on subjective and objective criteria, such as performance and length of service. However, the process of issuing stock was kept secret, as was the identity of employee-shareholders. West discontinued this program shortly before the merger. At the time of the sale to Thomson Reuters, West has 157 male employee-shareholders and only 29 female employee-shareholders. The employee-shareholders profited significantly from the sale to Thomson Reuters. It is unclear what relief the plaintiffs sought.
The main issue at the District Court level was the timeliness of the plaintiffs' complaint. West discontinued issuing employees stock in August 1994 and discontinued issuing dividends in June 1996. The District Court, in an unpublished opinion on May 20, 1999, certified the class nonetheless. Carter v. West Publishing Company,
No. 97-2537, 1999 WL376502 (M.D. Fla. 1999). The District Court found that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until June 1996 and that equitable tolling applied. The District Court also denied summary judgment to the defendant in an April 19, 1999 unpublished order. Carter v. West Publishing Company,
No. 97-2537, 1999 WL 375901 (M.D. Fla. 1999). However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the District Court, holding that there was no continuing violation and no reason to apply equitable tolling. Thus, the Title VII claims were dismissed as untimely after the Court of Appeals' opinion.
The case was remanded to the District Court, where it continued with the Equal Pay Act claims.
The parties were prepared for trial but settled the remaining claims amicably, as noted in an unpublished order on July 3, 2001. Both parties were to pay their own attorneys' fees. Further details of this resolution are unavailable at present. This is the last entry on the docket.Eric Weiler - 08/16/2010