Posted December 9th, 2015.
By Ryan Davis
Law360, New York (December 9, 2015, 5:47 PM ET) — David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP secured millions of dollars in settlements for plaintiffs in separate class action employment suits against Daiichi Sankyo Inc. and Ma Laboratories Inc., earning him a spot among Law360’s 2015 Employment MVPs.
Those agreements, along with a decision granting conditional class certification for plaintiffs in a pending gender bias suit accusing Forest Laboratories Inc. of discrimination, are part of a series of successful results Sanford has achieved for plaintiffs despite the 2011 high court decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which has been widely viewed as making it more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in employment class action cases.
Sanford has used a novel strategy that takes advantage of the different standards for class certification under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and is aimed at incentivizing defendants to settle.
He has first pursued conditional certification under the less stringent requirements of the FLSA’s equal pay amendments. That increases the number of plaintiffs in the matter and adds to the evidentiary and statistical databases necessary to proceed as a class action under the more challenging Title VII standard.
Sanford said that while “I don’t know that it was done much before Dukes and I don’t know that it’s done a whole lot after Dukes,” the strategy has proven effective in several cases.
“It enables you to have a much broader and deeper evidentiary basis to support a claim of Title VII discrimination,” he said.
For instance, in the Daiichi case, Sanford secured conditional class certification under the FLSA in a case where female employees say the drug company paid them less than their male peers.
He then moved to implement court-ordered notification of all potential class members in order to obtain evidence of classwide discrimination. In August, the company agreed to pay $8.2 million to settle the claims of nearly 1,400 female plaintiffs.
In addition to payments to the plaintiffs, some of the settlement earmarked to ensure changes in employment policies at the company to prevent future discrimination.
“It’s particularly gratifying to get the kind of relief that’s not only backward-looking, but forward-looking as well,” Sanford said. “We know the relief we get is significant in terms of the daily lives of workers who are there now and those who are yet to come.”
In September, a judge granted conditional certification to a collective class of female sales representatives at Forest Laboratories who allege they were paid less than their male colleagues. Notification of potential class members is now underway in the case, in which around 1,500 workers are seeking $100 million.
Sanford said his cases often begin with a claim brought on behalf of one person under the Equal Pay Act and that “ultimately, the evidence is in the data.”
“In the vast majority of cases we look at, when we get the data, it turns out to be true and women are paid less than men,” he said.
Sanford said that what the firm finds at one company often turns out to be consistent across a given industry. Helping put a stop to discriminatory employment practices has a personal resonance for him, he said.
“I have a 20-month-old daughter and I don’t want her to come into the kind of workplace that we see when we look time and time again at companies large and small,” he said.
Sanford notched another victory in January when he reached a $2.8 million settlement in California state court on behalf of all present and former employees of Ma Laboratories, a computer component distributor. The deal got final approval in August.
The deal came after a judge granted conditional class certification to around 550 hourly workers who alleged failure to pay minimum wage or provide meal and rest breaks, among other violations. Before certification, the plaintiffs were part of a public rally to protest alleged sweatshop conditions at Ma Laboratories and other California workplaces.
–Editing by Jeremy Barker.