The Northern District of Illinois recently denied a motion for class certification based largely on the inexperience of class counsel, and simultaneously denied the defendant’s motion to deny class certification. The plaintiffs sought to represent a class of all present and former female employees who worked at a Chicago area Ford Motor Company facility beginning in 2012. Plaintiffs filed a 123-count complaint alleging a wide range of claims, including sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and various forms of discrimination. During the litigation, the defendant entered into an agreement with the EEOC (the “Conciliation Agreement”), which included a series of commitments to prevent harassment and discrimination, as well as establishing a fund to provide relief to individuals subjected to discrimination.
The court determined that the plaintiffs did not meet Rule 23(a)(4)’s requirement because they could not establish the adequacy of their class counsel. The plaintiffs’ lead counsel had been approved as class counsel in only one other federal case, which resulted in disciplinary action from the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee and malpractice suits from class members. The plaintiffs attempted to bolster their class counsel’s adequacy with a last minute addition of another firm after the defendant had filed its response to the motion for class certification. The court found the addition insufficient, as the defendant had not been given an opportunity to address the adequacy of the late-added class counsel.
The court opined that class certification could be denied based on the inadequacy of class counsel alone, but noted several other deficiencies in the plaintiffs’ motion for certification. The court was concerned about potential conflicts of interest among the proposed class, as discovery revealed that the putative class contained individuals who allegedly participated in the alleged harassment or discrimination. The court also determined that the plaintiffs failed to discuss the elements of their hostile work environment claim in their predominance argument, and individual questions regarding the claim could predominate class issues. Lastly, the court expressed concern whether the plaintiffs could satisfy Rule 23’s typicality requirement given the range of alleged misconduct. Consequently, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification without prejudice, allowing the plaintiffs the opportunity to address the court’s concerns and refile their motion.
Additionally, the court rejected the defendant’s motion to deny class certification based on the Conciliation Agreement. The defendant argued that the Conciliation Agreement mooted the relief plaintiff sought. While the court noted that the Conciliation Agreement was a step in the right direction, its capped monetary fund was available to other employees who were not part of the putative class and it was not clear that the monitoring mechanisms established by the defendant would duplicate the relief the plaintiffs sought. The court deferred considering the potential effects of the Conciliation Agreement on the viability of class certification.