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Bellifemine v. Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC

August 5, 2010

KAREN BELLIFEMINE, AMY ZEOLI, MICHELLE POPA, NANCY BEANEY, AND JENNIFER STORM, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SANOFI-AVENTIS U.S. LLC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

A hearing was held on August 3, 2010, during which time the Court heard the Plaintiffs' unopposed Motion for Final Approval of the Class Action Settlement in this case. The Court had previously entered an Order of Preliminary Approval appointing Class Counsel, approving notice to the Class, establishing deadlines for objections, setting a date for a final fairness hearing, certifying the Class and preliminarily approving the Settlement Agreement. Having considered the written submissions of the parties and having held a final fairness hearing and having considered the arguments offered at the final fairness hearing, it is hereby ORDERED that the Class is finally certified and the settlement is finally approved as follows:

I. CLASS CERTIFICATION

The proposed Class is defined as:

All female sales force employees employed by sanofiaventis in the United States for at least one day between May 12, 2005 to March 23, 2010, excluding individuals who held management level positions higher than district sales manager, excluding individuals who previously entered into individual releases as part of individual agreements with sanofi-aventis up to August 3, 2010, and excluding individuals who opt out of the settlement on a timely basis.

For the reasons set forth below, for purposes of this settlement, the Class may be certified because it satisfies the requirements of Rule 23(a) and Rule 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

A. The Settlement Meets The Rule 23(a) Criteria

The Class encompasses 5,262 potential members, too many for joinder of all to be practicable, and thus, Rule 23's numerosity requirement is satisfied. See Consol. Rail Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 47 F.3d 473, 483 (2d Cir. 1995) ("[N]umerosity is presumed at a level of 40 members.").

For purposes of this settlement, Named Plaintiffs' allegations also fulfill the typicality requirement because their claims arise from the same factual and legal circumstances as other members of the class. See Lenahan v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., No. 02 Civ. 0045, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60307, at *25-26 (D.N.J. July 10, 2006) ("Here, the same allegedly unlawful conduct affected both the named Plaintiffs and the . . . class members . . . . Accordingly, this Court finds that a typicality requirement . . . is also satisfied."). The commonality requirement is met because the Named Plaintiffs' claims involve allegations of common pay and promotion claims arising from the same alleged policies and practices of the company. Finally, the Named Plaintiffs are also adequate representatives under Rule 23(a)(4) because their interests mesh with those of the other members of the Class. Toure v. Cent. Parking Sys., No. 05 Civ. 5237, 2007 WL 2872455, at *7-8 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2007). The Named Plaintiffs also satisfy the adequacy requirement because their attorneys have "an established record of competent and successful prosecution of large . . . class actions." Reyes v. Buddha-Bar NYC, No. 08 Civ. 02494, 2009 WL 5841177, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. May 28, 2009).

B. The Settlement Meets The Relevant Rule 23(b)(3) Criteria For A Settlement Class

To meet the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) the Court must find that common factual allegations and a common legal theory predominate over any factual or legal variations among class members. See Mohney v. Shelly's Prime Steak, No. 06 Civ. 4270, 2009 WL 5851465, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2009). For purposes of this settlement, the Named Plaintiffs' claims meet that test because they are unified by common factual allegations that sanofi-aventis allegedly disfavored female sales force employees compared to males in terms of compensation and promotion. When "[c]onfronted with a request for settlement-only class certification, a district court need not inquire whether the case, if tried, would present intractable management problems, see Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23(b)(3)(D), for the proposal is that there be no trial." Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 620 (1997); see also Blyden v. Mancusi, 186 F.3d 252, 270 (2d Cir. 1999). Thus, for purposes of this settlement class, the Named Plaintiffs satisfy the relevant Rule 23(b)(3) criteria.

II. NOTICE WAS APPROPRIATE

In accordance with the procedures approved in the Preliminary Approval Order, the Class was provided with the Notice regarding the proposed Settlement Agreement and the deadlines and procedures for objecting and opting out of the class. The Notice and measures taken by the Claims Administrator in mailing the Notices were adequate to inform the members of the Class of the proposed settlement and such actions provided sufficient notice to satisfy the requirements of due process.

III. SETTLEMENT APPROVAL

Having determined that the Class is properly certified for settlement purposes and that Notice was appropriate, the Court must next address the proposed Settlement Agreement. To approve the settlement, the Court must find the proposed settlement is "fair, reasonable and adequate." Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(e)(2); In re Luxottica Group S.p.A. Sec. Litig., 233 F.R.D. 306, 310 (E.D.N.Y. 2006); In re Indep. Energy Holdings PLC Sec. Litig., No. 00 Civ. 6689, 2003 WL 22244676, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2003). The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has identified nine substantive factors that courts should consider in deciding whether to approve a proposed settlement of a class action:

(1) the complexity, expense and likely duration of the litigation; (2) the reaction of the class to the settlement; (3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed; (4) the risks of establishing liability; (5) the risks of establishing damages; (6) the risks of maintaining the class action through the trial; (7) the ability of the defendants to withstand a greater judgment; (8) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund in light of the best possible recovery; [and] (9) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund to a possible recovery in light of all the attendant risks of litigation. Detroit v. Grinnell Corp., 495 F.2d 448, 463 (2d Cir. 1974) (internal citations omitted). All nine factors need not be satisfied. Instead, the Court looks at the totality of these factors in light of the specific circumstances involved. Thompson v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 216 F.R.D. 55, 61 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).

A. The Complexity, Expense, And Likely Duration Of The Litigation Support Approval Of The Settlement

This Court has recognized that discrimination class actions are notoriously complex and protracted. See Wright v. Stern, 553 F. Supp. 2d 337, 344 (S.D.N.Y. 2008). Specifically, as counsel for the parties have concluded, the probability of further protracted litigation, including appeals, would be a near certainty in the absence of settlement. Additional litigation in this case would likely include: (1) discovery, including the depositions of four of the five Named Plaintiffs, as well as representatives of sanofi-aventis and the review and production of millions of pages of electronic documents; (2) contested class certification proceedings; (3) a potential appeal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f); (4) dispositive motions; (5) extensive pretrial filings; (6) a lengthy trial; (7) post-trial proceedings in this District Court; and, (7) further appeal proceedings. Having considered the complexity, expense and likely duration of the litigation, this factor weighs in favor of approving the proposed settlement.

B. The Reaction Of The Class To The Settlement

A favorable reception by the class constitutes "strong evidence" of the fairness of a proposed settlement and supports judicial approval. Grinnell, 495 F.2d at 462; see also Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Visa USA, Inc., 396 F.3d 96, 119 (2d Cir. 2005). A small number of objections is convincing evidence of strong support by class members. See Grinnell, 495 F.2d at 462 ("Any claim by appellants that the settlement offer is grossly and unreasonably inadequate is belied by the fact that . . . [o]nly twenty objectors appeared from the group of 14,156 claimants."). In this case, no objections were filed by absent members of the Class and only 28 class members have requested ...


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