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Case Name Bunch v. Rent-a-Center, Inc. EE-MO-0109
Docket / Court 4:00-CV-00364 ( W.D. Mo. )
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Case Summary
On April 19, 2000, a woman formerly employed by Rent-A-Center filed this action in the U.S. District Court of Western Illinois against her employer alleging sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and retaliation. Her claims were brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Missouri state ... read more >
On April 19, 2000, a woman formerly employed by Rent-A-Center filed this action in the U.S. District Court of Western Illinois against her employer alleging sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and retaliation. Her claims were brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Missouri state law. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that she was sexually and physically harassed by her manager. The manager called the plaintiff several sexually explicit names, made explicit comments, and told her that women did not belong in the workplace. In one incident, the manager intentionally caused the plaintiff to cut her face while she moved furniture. Neither the local manager nor Rent-A-Center’s regional manager responded to the plaintiff’s repeated complaints about her treatment. In addition to the harassment, the plaintiff also alleged that she was paid less than similarly situated male employees, offered fewer promotional opportunities, assigned different job duties, and assessed by different standards of conduct because of her sex. Finally, the plaintiff alleged she was fired because of her sex, and in retaliation for her repeated complaints about the work environment. The plaintiff sought back pay, front pay, compensatory and punitive damages.

The plaintiff filed an amended class action complaint on December 18, 2000, brought on behalf of herself and other women who were subjected to similar harassment while employed by Rent-A-Center. The amended complaint sought declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and monetary damages under the same claims as the initial compliant. It alleged that Rent-A-Center engaged in a pattern of sex-based discrimination by creating a hostile work environment, paying women less, and systemically denying female employees the same opportunities for advancement as male employees. In particular, the plaintiffs claimed that Rent-A-Center had imposed an arbitrary seventy-five pound lifting requirement for all new hires for the purpose of hiring fewer women. In addition to narrowing the pool of potential hires, the plaintiffs claimed that the lifting policy created a trickle-down effect that reduced the representation of women at all levels of the company.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Rent-A-Center systemically retaliated against women who complained about the discrimination and that, by disbanding its Human Resources department, Rent-A-Center made it more difficult for women employed by the company to obtain relief from the hostile workplace environment.

Following the filing of the amended complaint, Rent-A-Center filed a motion to dismiss or to compel arbitration on January 2, 2001, claiming that the plaintiffs had signed an arbitration agreement as a condition of their employment. Rent-A-Center also filed a motion for transfer of venue. On May 1, Judge Ortrie D. Smith ordered the parties to file additional briefing on whether the arbitration agreement was effective only during employment or extended after the plaintiff had left her job with Rent-A-Center. Judge Smith granted the motion to compel arbitration on July 18, and stayed the proceedings until arbitration was complete. Judge Smith found that, while the arbitration agreement could be narrowly read to only cover grievances during employment, such a reading was not consistent with the intentions of either party when signing the contract. On September 14, Judge Smith denied the motion for transfer of venue.

On August 13, the plaintiffs moved for a reconsideration of Judge Smith’s order to compel arbitration. The plaintiffs asserted that the arbitration agreement was invalid under Missouri state law. On November 9, Judge Smith granted the plaintiffs' motion to reconsider and stayed the case during arbitration, which was not opposed by Rent-A-Center.

The plaintiffs and Rent-A-Center filed a motion for preliminary approval of a settlement agreement on October 31. Part of the proposed settlement was an injunction barring any other class certification in similar lawsuits against Rent-A-Center.

The settlement was opposed, however, by a group of women formerly employed by Rent-A-Center who were pursuing a similar class action case against Rent-A-Center in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois at the same that this case was being litigated in Missouri. This group, the objectors, filed a motion to oppose the settlement in the Bunch case on November 5. The objectors alleged that their case was almost identical to this case, but that they, and not the plaintiffs in this case, were the “legitimate representatives” of the class of women who were discriminated against by Rent-A-Center. Further, the objectors alleged that the proposed settlement was designed by Rent-A-Center to end the class action on more favorable terms than Rent-A-Center would be able to obtain from the objectors. In particular, the objectors pointed to the fact that the settlement in this case was filed the day after the objectors filed their motion for class certification.

On November 9, the objectors filed a motion to intervene to oppose both class certification and the settlement agreement in this case. Judge Smith granted the objectors’ motion to intervene to challenge the preliminary injunction against other class action certifications on November 29. On the same day, Judge Smith approved the preliminary settlement between the plaintiffs in this case and Rent-A-Center, while denying the objectors’ motion to oppose the settlement. Judge Smith held that the objectors’ opposition to the settlement was premature and would be more appropriate later in the proceedings.

In a third order on November 29, Judge Smith also granted the motion for class certification in this case. The class was defined as “[a]ll females who worked at, applied for work, and/or who attempted to apply but were affirmatively discouraged by the Defendant from applying for work at any Rent-A-Center, Rent-A-Center, Inc., or Renters Choice, Inc. store in the United States or any of its territories, at any time between April 19, 1998 and October 1, 2001 . . . except that the Class does not include any female employed as a Market Manager and/or Regional Director nor any female who previously entered into a written settlement agreement with Rent-A-Center, Rent-A-Center, Inc., or Renters Choice, Inc. which releases claims of gender discrimination.”

On December 3, the objectors appealed Judge Smith’s decision to deny their motion to intervene on the settlement approval process. The appeal was denied on December 11.

On January 18, 2002, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a motion to intervene in the settlement proceedings, on the grounds that Title VII is administered by the Commission and the federal agencies have a right to intervene in cases that rely on a statute administered by that agency. The Commission moved to intervene to “protect absent class members and to subject this settlement to heightened scrutiny,” among other reasons. The motion to intervene was opposed by both the Bunch plaintiffs and Rent-A-Center. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s motion to intervene was granted by Judge Smith on February 28.

The objectors again moved to intervene to object to the proposed settlement on January 25. Prior to this filing, the objectors had been appointed as class representatives in their class action in Illinois against Rent-A-Center. They argued that the Bunch plaintiffs did not adequately represent the interests of the objectors' class in this proceeding. Intervention was opposed by both the Bunch plaintiffs and Rent-A-Center, on the grounds that the objectors had already opted out of the class settlement that had been proposed in this case. On February 28, Judge Smith denied the objectors' motion to intervene. Judge Smith ruled that the objectors had no substantial interest in this litigation, because they had preserved their right to litigate separately by opting out of the settlement in this case. Judge Smith further held that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, whose intervention was approved on the same day, would adequately represent the objectors’ interests in ensuring a fair settlement in this case.

On March 26, the plaintiffs moved for final approval of a settlement agreement. The settlement included monetary damages for all class members, an alternative dispute resolution fund where class members who were dissatisfied with the offered sums could seek different monetary compensation, and a consent decree compelling Rent-A-Center to take measures to improve gender equity within the company.

The settlement was endorsed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on April 9, by the Impact Fund and the National Organization of Women Foundation on April 11, and by Rent-A-Center on April 16. Before the settlement was approved, however, the objectors announced a separate settlement with Rent-A-Center in their own lawsuit. The objectors’ settlement preempted the settlement in this case because of the near total overlap in class members, but that settlement did not include an alternative dispute resolution process. On July 15, Judge Smith held that the alternative dispute resolution process in this case would supplement the objectors’ settlement, and that class members who were dissatisfied with the compensation offered by the objectors’ settlement could utilize the alternative dispute resolution process in this settlement. 2002 WL 35645390 (W.D. Mo. July 15, 2002).

Judge Smith issued an order approving an amendment to the alternative dispute resolution plan on December 13, 2002. Judge Smith also approved the arbiter’s ruling on distribution of funds On December 5, 2003 (2003 WL 27382901) and issued a correction to that ruling on December 12 (2003 WL 27382900). The case was dismissed on February 25, 2004, after the adjudication of all claims by class members who opted to participate in the alternative dispute resolution process. The case is now closed.

Brian Remlinger - 02/16/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Female
Defendant-type
Retailer
Discrimination-area
Demotion
Discharge / Constructive Discharge / Layoff
Harassment / Hostile Work Environment
Hiring
Other Conditions of Employment (including assignment, transfer, hours, working conditions, etc)
Pay / Benefits
Promotion
Testing
Discrimination-basis
Sex discrimination
EEOC-centric
EEOC intervened in private suit
Private Suit Related / Consolidated with EEOC Suit
General
Disparate Treatment
Pattern or Practice
Retaliation
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
Defendant(s) RENT-A-CENTER, INC.
Plaintiff Description All females who worked at, applied for work, and/or who attempted to apply but were affirmatively discouraged by the Defendant from applying for work at any Rent-A-Center, Rent-A-Center, Inc., or Renters Choice, Inc. store in the United States or any of its territories, at any time between April 19, 1998 and October 1, 2001 . . . except any female employed as a Market Manager and/or Regional Director.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filing Year 2000
Case Closing Year 2004
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing EE-IL-0194 : WILFONG v. RENT A CENTER (S.D. Ill.)
Docket(s)
4:00−cv−00364 (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/25/2004
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
EE-MO-0109-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/19/2000
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 3]
EE-MO-0109-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2000
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 23]
EE-MO-0109-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/18/2000
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Motion to Dismiss or Alternative to Stay Proceedings [ECF# 65] (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/18/2001
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Motion for Approval of Class Settlement Agreement [ECF# 81]
EE-MO-0109-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/31/2001
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Preliminarily Approving Stipulation and Conditionally Certifying a Settlement Class [ECF# 108] (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/29/2001
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Wilfong Plaintiffs' Motions [ECF# 109] (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/29/2001
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting EEOC's Motion to Intervene [ECF# 163] (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/28/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Declaration of Class Counsel in Support of Class Certification [ECF# 172]
EE-MO-0109-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/26/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Approving Supplemental ADR and Communication with Class Members [ECF# 188] (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/15/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Approving Amendment to Supplemental ADR Fund [ECF# 192] (2002 WL 35645391) (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0014.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 12/13/2002
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Affirming Arbitrator's Ruling [ECF# 200] (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/05/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Clarifying and Amending Order Affirming Arbitrator's Ruling [ECF# 201] (W.D. Mo.)
EE-MO-0109-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/12/2003
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order of Dismissal [ECF# 202]
EE-MO-0109-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/25/2004
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Smith, Ortrie D. (W.D. Mo.) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0004 | EE-MO-0109-0006 | EE-MO-0109-0008 | EE-MO-0109-0009 | EE-MO-0109-0010 | EE-MO-0109-0011 | EE-MO-0109-0012 | EE-MO-0109-0013 | EE-MO-0109-0014 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Braud, Bert S. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0003 | EE-MO-0109-0005 | EE-MO-0109-0007
Clune, Mary Beth (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0002
Compton, Mary Beth (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0003 | EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Egan, Dennis E. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0003 | EE-MO-0109-0005 | EE-MO-0109-0007
Fletcher, Michael Robert (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0003
German, Charles W. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Graham, Gene P. Jr. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0001 | EE-MO-0109-0002 | EE-MO-0109-0003 | EE-MO-0109-0005 | EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Hasselberg, Courtney A. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Hubbard, Dirk L. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0003 | EE-MO-0109-0005 | EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Hueser, Courtney (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0005
Klamann, John M. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0003 | EE-MO-0109-0005 | EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Ray, Jon A. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Schlichter, Jerome J. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Sedey, Mary Anne (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
White, Steve (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0005 | EE-MO-0109-0007
Defendant's Lawyers Carr, Shannon Cameron (Texas) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Dargene, Dan C (Texas) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Driscoll, Robert L. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Hecht, Scott C. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Sorrell, Lisa Winston (Texas) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Welch, Sara Elizabeth (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-0007 | EE-MO-0109-9000
Wright, Franklin (Texas) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Other Lawyers Bacon, Jennifer G. (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Baran, Andrea G. (Kansas) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000
Harper, Donna (Missouri) show/hide docs
EE-MO-0109-9000

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