MCLB racial discrimination lawsuit nearing settlement

MCLB-ALBANY -- Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, along with the Marine Corps Logistics Command recently received notification that a multi-individual racial-discrimination lawsuit against the commands is nearing settlement.

In July 2002, a group of African-American employees of Marine Corps Logistics Base (now MCLB-Albany and LOGCOM) filed a civil action in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia seeking class-action status in connection with alleged discrimination based on race in the selection of employees for job vacancies, training and other employment opportunities.

Over the course of the first four years after the complaint was filed, the parties engaged in extensive factual and expert discovery to include the provision of more than 387,000 documents totaling more than 810,000 pages, interviews of numerous witnesses, extensive written discovery and depositions of approximately 20 fact and expert witnesses.

"One of the command's top priorities is to eliminate discrimination," said 1st Lt. Caleb Eames, public affairs officer at the base.

After completion of this discovery, the counsel for the plaintiffs indicated their intent to seek certification of a class limited to challenging selections for merit-staffing positions at MCLB-Albany. Plaintiffs' counsel asserted that the merit-staffing process had disparate impact on African-American applicants. The disparate-impact theory of discrimination addresses employment practices that are not intended to discriminate but in fact have a disproportionately adverse effect on a protected minority. Thus, disparate-impact claims do not involve the issue of intentional discrimination.

Plaintiffs' counsel and the U.S. Attorney executed a preliminary settlement agreement on June 22, which is subject to Department of Justice review and approval. The agreement was submitted for approval in late June and approval was received on Sept. 30. Upon receipt of this approval, the parties executed a final settlement agreement on Oct. 23. The settlement is not an admission of liability or fault.

Since this lawsuit involves class-wide claims, the federal judge assigned to the case must review both the proposed settlement class and the terms of the settlement to determine whether the settlement meets the applicable "fair, reasonable, and adequate" standard with respect to all class members. At the initial hearing in the fairness-hearing process held on Nov.18, U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands preliminarily approved the settlement by conditionally certifying the settlement class, granting preliminary approval of the settlement agreement and approving the notices to be sent to the members of the settlement class. The notices were mailed out Dec. 4.

Any comments or objections from the class members must be postmarked no later than Jan. 19, 2010.

The final fairness hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22 at the federal district court in Albany to determine whether the proposed settlement agreement will be given final approval by the court.

The settlement class covers all African-American applicants for merit-staffing announcements for positions at MCLB-Albany from March 3, 2000 through Jan. 1, 2009, a class size of approximately 12,000 African-American applicants. The settlement provides monetary relief for 114 applicants in 11 job categories at the base.

Under applicable class-action law, the usual time limit for filing equal employment opportunity (EEO) claims that come within the scope of the lawsuit has not applied while the lawsuit has been ongoing. If the court gives final approval to the settlement, those class members not sharing in the monetary relief provided by the settlement will be notified that the settlement has been approved and that they may file with the base's EEO office any relevant, individual EEO claims that they may have held in abeyance during the pendency of the lawsuit.