Human Rights, Labor Practices and Public Policy
Human rights violations, unfair labor practices, and compromised public policy committed by large corporations affect people and employees not only in the United States, but all over the world. Robbins Geller has litigated cases against many of these corporations, such as The Gap, Inc., Cintas and Nike, which involved human rights and labor violations such as sweatshop conditions, denial of overtime pay and other exploitive labor practices. The Firm’s attorneys have also achieved settlements that involve extensive governance changes in order to help organized labor.
The Firm’s human rights, labor practices and public policy cases include:
- Does I v. The Gap, Inc., No. 01 0031 (D. N. Mar. I.). In this groundbreaking case, Robbins Geller attorneys represented a class of 30,000 garment workers who alleged that they had worked under sweatshop conditions in garment factories in Saipan that produced clothing for top United States retailers such as The Gap, Target and J.C. Penney. In the first action of its kind, Robbins Geller attorneys pursued claims against the factories and the retailers alleging violations of RICO, the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Law of Nations based on the alleged systemic labor and human rights abuses occurring in Saipan. This case was a companion to two other actions: Does I v. Advance Textile Corp., No. 99 0002 (D. N. Mar. I.), which alleged overtime violations by the garment factories under the Fair Labor Standards Act and local labor law, and UNITE v. The Gap, Inc., No. 300474 (Cal. Super. Ct., San Francisco Cnty.), which alleged violations of California’s Unfair Practices Law by the United States retailers. These actions resulted in a settlement of approximately $20 million that included a comprehensive monitoring program to address past violations by the factories and prevent future ones. The members of the litigation team were honored as Trial Lawyers of the Year by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice in recognition of the team’s efforts at bringing about the precedent-setting settlement of the actions.
- Liberty Mutual Overtime Cases, No. JCCP 4234 (Cal. Super. Ct., Los Angeles Cnty.). Robbins Geller attorneys served as co-lead counsel on behalf of 1,600 current and former insurance claims adjusters at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and several of its subsidiaries. Plaintiffs brought the case to recover unpaid overtime compensation and associated penalties, alleging that Liberty Mutual had misclassified its claims adjusters as exempt from overtime under California law. After 13 years of complex and exhaustive litigation, Robbins Geller secured a settlement in which Liberty Mutual agreed to pay $65 million into a fund to compensate the class of claims adjusters for unpaid overtime. The Liberty Mutual action is one of a few claims adjuster overtime actions brought in California or elsewhere to result in a successful outcome for plaintiffs since 2004.
- Veliz v. Cintas Corp., No. 5:03-cv-01180 (N.D. Cal.). Brought against one of the nation’s largest commercial laundries for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act for misclassifying truck drivers as salesmen to avoid payment of overtime.
- Kasky v. Nike, Inc., 27 Cal. 4th 939 (2002). The California Supreme Court upheld claims that an apparel manufacturer misled the public regarding its exploitative labor practices, thereby violating California statutes prohibiting unfair competition and false advertising. The Court rejected defense contentions that any misconduct was protected by the First Amendment, finding the heightened constitutional protection afforded to noncommercial speech inappropriate in such a circumstance.
- World War II-Era Slave Labor. Against steep odds, the Firm’s lawyers took up the claims of people forced to work as slave labor for Japanese corporations during the Second World War. Their human rights case ran into trouble when the Ninth Circuit agreed with the Bush administration that any claims against Japanese corporations and their subsidiaries were preempted by the federal government’s foreign-affairs power. See Deutsch v. Turner Corp., 324 F.3d 692 (9th Cir. 2003). The case nonetheless demonstrates the lawyers’ dedication to prosecuting human-rights violations against the challenge of formidable political opposition.
Robbins Geller has also been involved in union defense cases that have achieved governance changes to help organized labor. Some examples of these cases include:
- Southern Pacific/Overnite. A shareholder action stemming from several hundred million dollars in loss of value in the company due to systematic violations by Overnite of United States labor laws.
- Massey Energy. A shareholder action against an anti-union employer for flagrant violations of environmental laws resulting in multi-million dollar penalties.
- Crown Petroleum. A shareholder action against a Texas-based oil company for self-dealing and breach of fiduciary duty while also involved in a union lockout.
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