Thursday, April 27, 2006

Boeing Empl. Case Listed as Top Defense Win

A race discrimination case made the National Law Journal's list of the top ten defense wins of 2005. In Focus: Top Defense Wins of 2005, Nat'l L.J., April 17, 2006, at S3, S7, Westlaw link. In Williams v. The Boeing Co. (No. C98-761, W.D. Wash., Dec. 21, 2005), a class action involving about 4000 current and former black salaried workers, a jury found that the company had committed no acts of bias. The plaintiffs plan to appeal Judge Marsha Pechman's ruling that removed compensation issues from the jury.

The trial was the latest in a series of developments. A lawsuit over Boeing's employment practices was filed in 1998. Rev. Jesse Jackson helped negotiate a settlement the next year, valued at $15 million. Boeing agreed to alter its hiring and promotion practices (without saying its past practices were unlawful). But in 2003 that agreement was voided by the 9th Circuit because some class members objected to the distribution of funds.

Meanwhile, Boeing settled a sex discrimination case with a class of female employees for $72.5 million.

Before trial, the race discrimination class had been narrowed down, excluding hourly employees and workers from companies Boeing had acquired. About 11,000 black employees excluded from the class have filed a case in Chicago.

The lead defense counsel was Michael Reiss of Davis Wright Tremaine. (Although not currently on the Trial Ad faculty, Reiss was an instructor for many years.)

Reiss, Boeing's attorney, said that his winning technique at trial was to treat the plaintiffs with dignity and to use statistics to prove that they as a group fared as well as, if not better than, whites in securing promotions. Boeing's internal documents bolstered his claim that the company was committed to fair labor practices.

'It was with total respect, and it led the jury to conclude these are good people...but the evidence did not show discrimination against them,' said Reiss.

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