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Wetzel v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs brought a class action on behalf of all female employees and future employees seeking injunctive relief against Defendant’s policies. The District Court found the class action maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and did not require notice be given to the class. Defendant appealed arguing that the action was not maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) and even if it was, notice should be required to be sent to all class members so as not to violate due process.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A class action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if the class members are seeking injunctive and/or declaratory relief based on the same claims that are cohesive to both present and absent class members. Whether injunctive or declaratory relief is sought is determined at the time the class action is filed. Because members of a Rule 23(b)(2) class are “homogeneous,” notice is not required to satisfy due process so long as the class members are adequately represented.

    Facts. Sandra Wetzel and Mari Ross, Plaintiffs, wanted to be hired as claims adjusters for Liberty Mutual Ins. Co, Defendant, rather than claims representatives, but were told by Defendant that the position was only open to men. Plaintiffs filed charges with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (PHRC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Defendant decided to open the position to women including Plaintiffs, but Plaintiffs refused the offers because the offers included unacceptable conditions. The charges in the complaint were that the hiring and promotion policies and pregnancy-related policies violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Section:2000e (“Title VII”) and the salary policy violated the Equal Pay Act. Plaintiffs commenced a class action in federal court in Pennsylvania on behalf of “all present and future female technical employees in [Defendant’s] claim department without limitation to territory in the entire geographic location in which the defendant does business” and was later amended to include all former and future female technical employees. The District Court certified the class under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and said it was maintainable under Rule 23(b)(3) as well. The court refused to require that notice be given to the class. The District Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment regarding claims involving Defendant’s pregnancy related policies. In addition, the Court found that Defendant’s promotion and hiring policies also violated Title VII but because the evidence showed that the policies were discontinued, the Court did not issue injunctive relief. Defendant appealed the District Court’s management of the class action and summary judgment orders.

    Issue. Is this class action maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? Is notice to all class members under Rule 23(c)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure required to be sent under Rule 23(b)(2) class actions so as not to violate due process?

    Held. First issue: Yes. Second issue: No. The requirements of Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are satisfied. Under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a class action is maintainable if the defendant has refused to act on the claims sought by class members such that injunctive relief against the defendant on behalf of the class is appropriate. The Court must determine whether the class action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or Rule 23(b)(3) because a Rule 23(b)(2) class does not require notice to be sent out to class members but notice must be sent out in a Rule 23(b)(3) action. Because Defendant’s policies in place at the time the class action was filed would require injunctive relief, the action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In addition, the Court also may order Defendant to pay back pay to class members, which is declaratory relief. Therefore, the action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2). If a class action is maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) and Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the action should be considered under Rule 23(b)(2) for purposes of notice. Because the class is homogeneous and the class members are adequately represented, due process is not violated as to absent class members. The District Court has discretion to order notice in the event class members are no longer adequately represented.

    Discussion. The Court’s analysis is an example of analysis given to class actions maintainable under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Note that the Court does not look at the merits of the claim but merely the allegations in the class action and the relief sought to determine the type of class action.


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