Welcome back to the ClassAction.org Roundup. If you’re new around here, this is our weekly summary of all the need-to-know class action news that we just didn’t have time to write about separately. Why’s that, you ask? Because we were busy writing about lead plaintiffs, student loan overlord Navient, “what do I do with my hands?” while waiting for a class action settlement, and common illegal debt collection tactics, among many other topics on our Newswire and Blog. Whew.
Here, we’ll cover the commencement of the first trial against a major opioid maker, a sexual discrimination case against the FBI, some developments in the NFL concussion settlement situation, a pro-parents paternity leave settlement with JPMorgan Chase Bank, and much more.
All Eyes on Oklahoma as First Major Opioid Trial Kicks Off Against Johnson & Johnson
The tsunami of litigation against opioid manufacturers over their alleged role in facilitating a national addiction crisis has made its way into the courtroom as the trial of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunt’s lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson kicked off in Norman.
As reported by NPR, Johnson & Johnson faces Hunt’s allegations alone after Teva Pharmaceuticals and OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma settled with Oklahoma for $85 million and $270 million, respectively, before the trial got underway. Some of this settlement money will be used to cover litigation costs, addiction research and treatment in the state, NPR writes.
Calling the opioid situation the “worst manmade public health crisis in the history of our state and country,” Hunt pointed out in his opening statements on May 28 that more than 4,000 Oklahomans died from prescription opioid overdoses between 2007 and 2017. An attorney for the state added that Johnson & Johnson effectively created an oversupply of the painkilling drugs, which led its reps to push opioids into Oklahoma and encourage doctors to prescribe them as treatment.
The bench trial—one that has a judge but no jury—is expected to be watched particularly closely. The result could very well set a precedent that has a ripple effect on the roughly 2,000 pending opioid cases, many of whichhave been consolidated into the multidistrict litigation in Ohio, that were brought by almost every state and more than 1,600 local and tribal governments. NPR spoke with University of Kentucky law professor Richard Ausness, who noted that the federal MDL looms large over the Oklahoma trial, the fate of which could affect the size and terms of any civil settlements.
The litigation looks to recoup the billions spent by healthcare providers and state and local governments in dealing with the nationwide opioid crisis. As ClassAction.org has previously reported, less than one percent of the plaintiffs in opioid litigation are individuals who actually took the drugs and became addicted.
For more information on the trial and analysis of the tricky legal ground involved in litigating against opioid manufacturers, check out Jackie Fortier’s piece for NPR.
16 Women File Class Action Against FBI Over Alleged Sexual Discrimination at Training Academy
Last week, 16 plaintiffs filed a proposed class action lawsuit that claims they were among the more than 100 women who were subjected to gender discrimination while training to become FBI agents and analysts.
Filed in Washington D.C. federal court and reported on by NBC News, the civil rights lawsuit looks to represent female new agent trainees and intelligence analyst trainees who allege they were sexually harassed and subjected to outdated gender stereotypes, a hostile work environment, and retaliation at the FBI’s Quantico, Virginia training academy since April 10, 2015.
Some of the plaintiffs, 11 of whom are identified pseudonymously in the complaint, further claim they were “terminated, constructively discharged, forced to resign under pressure” and/or led to believe their continued training would be a “futile gesture” in whole or in part because of their gender.
The case, which names as its defendant U.S. Attorney General William Barr, additionally charges that women of color or those with disabilities were “excessively singled out for adverse treatment. Some female trainees who were offered other positions of employment with the FBI were also allegedly “forced to take positions several grades lower” than their previous pay grades or experience should have warranted.
As the lawsuit tells it, while the FBI’s six “suitability dimensions”—the core proficiencies on which the FBI evaluates trainees during weeks-long basic field training courses—appear neutral on their face, the dimensions, in practice, are “used as a pretext to induce failure in female trainees.” According to the plaintiffs, the highly subjective nature of observing and evaluating the “suitability dimensions”—conscientiousness, cooperativeness, emotional maturity, initiative, integrity and judgment—in trainees has borne an “uneven power dynamic at the FBI Academy” that puts female trainees at a clear disadvantage compared to their male counterparts. From the complaint:
For example, female trainees are admonished for lacking integrity and/or emotional maturity when they attempt to defend decisions made or actions taken found to be unfavorable with an instructor. However, when male trainees do the same, they are praised for having a ‘command presence.’ Further, female trainees are excessively targeted for correction and dismissal in tactical situations for perceived lack of judgment. Any tactical error can, and in the case of female trainees, is often characterized as an error in judgment and results in the issuance of [a suitability notification]. In contrast, male trainees who engage in identical or similar actions and behaviors are not issued [suitability notifications].”
The plaintiffs argue that the purpose behind the FBI Academy’s entire training process “has been perverted into one” that looks to eliminate trainees who fall outside of an “arbitrarily subjective mold,” which, the case asserts, stands “in direct contrast to stated FBI hiring policies and guidance.”
An interview with some of the plaintiffs can be found over at NBCNews.com. The lawsuit can be read in full here.
Judge Approves Controversial $7.4 Million Settlement to Resolve MDL Over Dial Hand Soap
Consumers who submitted valid settlement claims for the multidistrict litigation (MDL) over Dial Complete Liquid Hand Soap are one step closer to receiving their money after a federal judge approved a controversial $7.4 million deal. The cases included in the MDL argued that Dial exaggerated the effectiveness of its antibacterial hand soaps when it advertised that they kill “99.99 percent” of germs.
More than half of the settlement money is being directed to attorneys for fees, costs, and expenses. It has been reported that the federal government asked the court to reject the settlement proposal in May, arguing that the lawyers’ fees were excessive and unreasonable given that the deal would not provide any meaningful relief to class members. Dial had apparently already ceased advertising that its soap kills 99.99 percent of germs following new FDA regulations unrelated to the lawsuits.
Nevertheless, the judge gave the deal a green light. Of the $7.4 million settlement fund, $3,825,000 will be used to pay attorneys’ fees, as well as an additional $573,141 in lawyers’ costs and expenses. This leaves class members with $2,325,000 to split, of which a maximum of $8.10 per class member could have been claimed without proof of purchase.
You can read the order here.
JPMorgan Chase to Settle Class Action Over Allegedly Discriminatory Parental Leave Policy
JPMorgan Chase has reached a tentative $5 million agreement to settle an employee’s class action lawsuit that claims the company unfairly shorted fathers on paid parental leave based on their gender.
The plaintiff, who works for Chase in Ohio, alleges that he was denied the 16 weeks of paid leave offered by the company to primary caregivers. Chase supposedly approved just two weeks of leave after deeming that the man didn’t qualify as a “primary caregiver.” The plaintiff claims that Chase discriminates against male employees by only considering mothers as primary caregivers. In order to prove that he was eligible for a 16-week leave, the man was apparently required to demonstrate that his wife was medically unable to care for the child during those weeks, or that she had returned to work – a burden of proof that was not required of mothers.
The New York Times writes that the settlement, which still awaits a judge’s approval, seeks to ensure that Chase maintains a gender-neutral parental leave policy and would create a $5 million fund to be dispersed among approximately 5,000 fathers who claim they were unfairly denied parental leave between 2011 and 2017.
The settlement would reportedly be the first class action to resolve claims from fathers seeking parental leave equal to that given to mothers.
USA Gymnastics Requests Nevada Judge to Mediate Nassar Victims’ Sexual Abuse Claims
A Nevada bankruptcy judge will mediate claims against USA Gymnastics (USAG) that were filed by hundreds of women who allege they were sexually abused by former Olympic gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, according to court documents filed in May.
Judge Gregg W. Zive has reportedly served as a court-appointed mediator in several other sexual abuse cases, including claims filed against priests in the Catholic Church, which, according to USAG, makes him an appropriate candidate for the position.
As the mediator in USAG’s bankruptcy case, Judge Zive will aim to settle victims’ claims with the organization and resolve disputes with its insurers, who have reportedly been hesitant to cover the estimated $75 million to $100 million in claims.
Among the parties involved in the mediation proceedings are USA Gymnastics, its insurers, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the Committee of Sexual Abuse Survivors – the group of alleged victims of the disgraced doctor, who is now effectively facing life in prison.
MGM Could Pay $800M to Settle Las Vegas Shooting Lawsuits
MGM Resorts International has stated in an SEC filing that it could pay up to $800 million to settle lawsuits stemming from the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.
MGM, which owns the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino from which the shooter opened fire on a crowd of music festival goers, indicated in the May 7 filing that after months of mediation efforts, “progress has been made” toward a settlement with the victims. The company reportedly warned investors that a settlement of approximately $735 million – and up to $800 million if all the anticipated claimants participate – is “reasonably possible,” yet it’s still unclear when or even if a settlement will be reached.
It’s important to note that companies like MGM, in order to comply with federal securities law, need to disclose to their investors any potential factors, such as lawsuit settlements, that could have an effect on stock price and the companies’ overall financial health. In other words, the settlement is still a big maybe, but investors need to be aware that it’s a possibility.
Robert Eglet, an attorney representing a majority of the shooting victims, stated to CNN Business that the litigation is still “a long way from a settlement, if it does settle.”
“It’s just as possible at this point that it doesn’t,” he said.
MGM has maintained that it is not legally responsible for the shooter’s criminal actions but may consider a settlement “in the interest of avoiding protracted litigation and the related impact on the community,” noting that the company’s insurers have already agreed to cover up to $751 million.
Head over to CNN Business for more details.
Home Depot, Atlantic Water and Air TCPA Settlement Reached
If you were robocalled by Home Depot or Atlantic Water and Air, you may be covered by a settlement in the near future. The companies have agreed to pay a combined $4.35 million to end a class action lawsuit that claimed they violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act when making the calls.
If the settlement proceeds as planned, class members who received one or more autodialed calls using an artificial or prerecorded voice between October 16, 2013 and June 1, 2015 will be able to claim an estimated $1,100 with a cap of $5,000 per claim; the amount each person will receive depends on several factors, including how many people claim their piece of the settlement. Anything left in the fund after checks are sent out and attorneys’ fees are awarded will be given to a related charity in what’s known as a cy pres award, according to the court documents.
Speaking of court documents, here’s the settlement order.
All But One: Firms Dropped from NFL Concussion Suit
We have some more news on the NFL concussion litigation. In a surprising move that upset many attorneys, the federal judge overseeing the settlement proceedings terminated all the case’s leading lawyers except for one. Aside from barring five law firms from getting a piece of the $112 million settlement, the two-page order didn’t give much information on how the decision will affect things moving forward. The attorneys who were cut from the team allegedly received no notice before the order was given, and a handful of them are hoping to appeal the decision. They feel that the settlement could be on uncertain ground as a result.
If you read through the order, you’ll know about as much as we do at the moment.