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Coates v. Farmers Group, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

June 27, 2016

LYNNE COATES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FARMERS GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER PROVISIONALLY CERTIFYING CLASS AND GRANTING PRELIMINARY SETTLEMENT APPROVAL RE: DKT. NOS. 126, 129

          LUCY H. KOH, United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Lynne Coates, Serena Neves, Keever Rhodes, Celeste Stokes, and Karen Wasson (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) have alleged, on behalf of themselves and a putative class of similarly situated individuals, that the Defendants Farmers Group, Inc., Farmers Insurance Exchange, and Farmers Insurance Company, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”) have discriminated against female employees working as attorneys in Farmers Insurance Exchange’s Claims Litigation organization. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint); ECF No. 105 (Amended Complaint).

         Plaintiffs and Defendant Farmers Insurance Exchange have agreed to the entry of a proposed Collective and Class Action Settlement Agreement (the “Settlement”) as a full settlement of those disputes and this legal action, subject to this Court’s final approval thereof. See ECF Nos. 126-3, 137. Plaintiffs and Defendant Farmers Insurance Exchange have agreed that, for purposes of settling this case only, it should proceed as a class action as described in the Settlement and attached exhibits, and that the Settlement will constitute a final and complete adjudication of the parties’ and Class Members’ rights, liabilities and obligations as set forth in the Settlement. Notwithstanding Farmers Insurance Exchange’s stipulation to “Settlement Classes” in this case and to the proposed Settlement, Defendants continue to deny all allegations of unlawful conduct contained in Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint, and do not admit or concede that they have, in any manner, violated federal or California laws prohibiting discrimination and/or retaliation, or committed any other unlawful action that would entitle Plaintiffs or any class to any recovery.

         Having considered this motion, the record in this case, and the arguments of counsel at the preliminary approval hearing held on June 23, 2016, the Court now FINDS, CONCLUDES, and ORDERS as follows:

         I. PRELIMINARY CERTIFICATION OF RULE 23 SETTLEMENT CLASSES AND COLLECTIVE ACTION SETTLEMENT

         A. The following classes are proposed for certification for settlement purposes only:

1. The “Nationwide Title VII Class”: women employed by Farmers Group, Inc., Farmers Insurance Exchange, or Farmers Insurance Company, Inc. in Claims Litigation at any time from September 10, 2012 to the date of the Order Granting Preliminary Approval in one or more of the following positions: attorney, workers compensation attorney, associate trial attorney, associate workers compensation trial attorney, trial attorney, workers compensation trial attorney, senior trial attorney, senior workers compensation trial attorney, specialty trial attorney, specialty workers compensation trial attorney, supervising attorney, supervising workers compensation attorney, HEAT attorney, or managing attorney. The Nationwide Title VII Class excludes individuals working in Farmers Legal Business Administration (formerly known as “Claims Legal Services Management”).
2. The “California Class”: women employed by Farmers Group, Inc., Farmers Insurance Exchange, or Farmers Insurance Company, Inc. in Claims Litigation in California at any time from April 29, 2011 to the date of the Order Granting Preliminary Approval in one or more of the following positions: attorney, workers compensation attorney, associate trial attorney, associate workers compensation trial attorney, trial attorney, workers compensation trial attorney, senior trial attorney, senior workers compensation trial attorney, specialty trial attorney, specialty workers compensation trial attorney, supervising attorney, supervising workers compensation attorney, HEAT attorney, or managing attorney. The California Class excludes individuals working in Farmers Legal Business Administration (formerly known as “Claims Legal Services Management”).

         B. In considering the unopposed motion, the Court may not “go so far . . . as to judge the validity of [Plaintiffs’] claims. [It may only conduct such] inquiry into the substance of [the] case [as] may be necessary to ascertain satisfaction of” Rule 23. Staton v. Boeing Co., 327 F.3d 938, 954 (9th Cir. 2003). Having conducted that inquiry, the Court hereby FINDS and CONCLUDES that the Rule 23 Settlement Classes satisfy all of the requirements for certification under Rule 23(a), (b)(2), (b)(3), and (e):

1. The Court finds that the Nationwide Title VII Settlement Class, consisting of nearly 300 individuals, is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable. Similarly, the California Class, consisting of approximately 118 individuals, is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable. Accordingly, the requirement of Rule 23(a)(1) is satisfied.
2. The Court finds that there are questions of law or fact that are common to the Settlement Classes, and that these common issues predominate over any individualized questions of law or fact. Such questions include whether Defendant Farmers Insurance Exchange paid its male attorney employees more than its female attorney employees for the same or substantially similar work, and discriminated against them in job assignments, demotions, denial of promotion, performance ratings and termination. Accordingly, the commonality requirement of Rule 23(a)(2) is satisfied.
3. The Court finds that the claims of Lynne Coates, Serena Neves, Keever Rhodes Muir, Celeste Stokes, and Karen Wasson are typical of the claims of the members of the Settlement Classes and that the named Plaintiffs will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the Settlement Classes. Accordingly, the typicality requirement of Rule 23(a)(3) and the adequate representation requirement of Rule 23(a)(4) are satisfied.
4. The Court finds that Defendants have acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the Classes, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the Settlement Classes as a whole. Thus, the requirements of Rule 23(b)(2) are met.
5. In addition, based on the stipulation of the Parties and the materials provided in the unopposed motion, the Court concludes that the central issues raised in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint are susceptible to common proof. Moreover, if Class Members were to litigate their discrimination claims individually, they would rely on the same proof of centralized compensation, promotion/demotion, performance rating, job assignment and termination policies, practices and decisions. They would also seek a common damages remedy. Accordingly, the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3) is satisfied.
6. Based on the stipulation of the Parties and the materials provided with the unopposed motion, resolving the common liability and damages issues in a single action would be more efficient than litigating approximately 300 individual claims in separate actions in separate courts. In addition, litigation costs would likely exceed potential recovery if each Class Member ...

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