United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER, United States District Judge
matter came before the Court following a fairness hearing for
final approval of a proposed class settlement (Settlement)
embodied in a Class Action Settlement Agreement (Settlement
Agreement), dated as of November 22, 2017, between the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and
Erick Little, Gerald Tucker, Fitzgerald Stoney, Marcello
Virgil, Leroy Quarles, Timothy McClough, Leon McKenzie, and
Louia McKenzie (collectively, Class Representatives) on
behalf of themselves and the respective class(s) of which
they are Class Representatives; Sidney Davis; and D.W., a
minor child of Lawrence Whitted, who is deceased, and Joyce
Short, D.W.'s next friend (collectively, Ms. Short). A
copy of the Settlement Agreement was submitted to the Court
as part of the motion to approve the Settlement. Capitalized
terms used and not otherwise defined in this Memorandum
Opinion and accompanying Order shall have the meanings
assigned to them in the Settlement Agreement.
read, reviewed, and considered the papers filed with this
Court in support of final approval of the Settlement,
including any declarations submitted, oral arguments of
counsel, the Settlement Agreement, and the pleadings filed in
this action; having conducted a fairness hearing with regard
to the Settlement and approval thereof; being fully informed
regarding the facts surrounding the proposed Settlement; and
based upon this information and the record as a whole; the
Court will grant final approval of the Settlement,
attorneys' fees, and service awards.
complete explanation of the background and claims raised in
this case can be found in this Court's opinion on class
certification. See Opinion [Dkt. 186]. The Court
includes a brief summary here.
brought a class-action suit on behalf of themselves and other
similarly situated individuals under Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.
and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C.
Code § 2.1401.01 et seq alleging that a
criminal background check (Policy 7.2.3), see Notice
of Second Am. Compl., Ex. C, Policy 7.2.3 [Dkt. 200-4], used
by WMATA to screen candidates and employees, was facially
neutral but had a disparate impact on African Americans.
WMATA's Policy 7.2.3 governed how and when individuals
with criminal convictions could obtain or continue employment
with WMATA and its contractors and subcontractors. WMATA at
all points has argued that it adopted Policy 7.2.3 as a
business necessity and that it did not have a discriminatory
impact on African Americans. Policy 7.2.3 included four
appendices which specified the background check criteria for
different types of positions. Plaintiffs moved for class
certification and on March 31, 2017, the Court certified
three classes under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2): Appendix A Class,
Appendix C Class, and Appendix F Class/MetroAccess Class.
See Opinion at 46-47. The Court did not certify a
damages class under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3). See id.
at 41, 44-45.
class certification the parties began merits discovery and
also engaged in extensive settlement negotiations. The
parties met in person on multiple occasions and participated
in two formal mediation settlements with a neutral mediator.
See Mem. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot. for Final
Approval of Proposed Class Action Settlement (Final Class
Settlement Mot.) [Dkt. 240] at 5-6. On November 22, 2017, the
parties memorialized the terms of the Settlement Agreement.
See id. at 6. The Settlement Agreement provides that
WMATA shall pay $6.5 million into a Class Settlement Fund to
be distributed to Class Counsel for payment of fees and
costs, a Claims Administrator for its work in administering
the Fund, eligible class members that submit short or long
claims forms, and Class Representatives for their assistance
in the litigation. See id. at 6-8. Additionally,
WMATA agreed to maintain a new policy (2017 Policy), adopted
in 2017, which provides for individualized assessments after
an applicant fails the background check rather than
presumptive disqualification, for at least one year after the
date of the Court's final order approving the Settlement
Agreement. See id. at 9.
December 7, 2017, this Court granted preliminary approval of
the proposed class-action Settlement between the Class
Representatives and WMATA. See Preliminary Approval
Order [Dkt. 230]. The Preliminary Approval Order ordered that
notice of the proposed Settlement be sent by first-class mail
to a Settlement Class consisting of individuals, determined
by Class Counsel from records provided by third party First
Choice Background Screening, Inc. (First
Choice) who: (i) failed a criminal background
screening under the Background Screening Policy since
February 23, 2012; (ii) were denied employment, terminated,
or otherwise permanently separated from their position,
suspended from employment with or without pay, and/or denied
employment with WMATA or a contractor or subcontractor of
WMATA as a result of the Background Screening Policy; and
(iii) either were identified in the First Choice records as
African American or had not been identified in the First
Choice records as having a particular race. The notice was
sent in this manner to ensure that all members of the
Settlement Class were notified.
April 6, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Final Approval
of the Proposed Class Action Settlement and a Motion for
Approval of Service Payments. Final Class Settlement Mot.
[Dkt. 240]; Mot. for Approval of Serv. Payments [Dkt. 241].
WMATA also filed a Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs'
Motion for Final Approval of Class Lawsuit Settlement
Agreement. WMATA Mem. in Supp. of Class Action Settlement
[Dkt. 245]. The Court also received objections from six
individuals and reviewed and considered each objection
despite some untimely filing. See Objections [Dkts.
232, 233, 234, 236, 237, 239, 244, 246, and 252].
April 18, 2018, the Court held a formal fairness hearing to
consider whether to grant final approval of the Settlement.
See 4/18/2018 Minute Entry. The Court heard and
considered argument from the parties and the following
individuals who elected to appear to voice their support for,
or objection to, the Settlement: Galen Pendergrass, Bernhard
Levi, Thomas Hall, Tiffany Burke, Kaye Lawton, and Sterling
Final Approval of Class Settlement
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), in order to grant
final approval of a settlement, the Court must find that
“the settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable and is
not the product of collusion between the parties.”
Thomas v. Albright, 139 F.3d 227, 231 (D.C. Cir.
1998); see also Greenberg v. Colvin, No. 13-1837
(RMC), 2015 WL 4078042, at *3 (D.D.C. July 1, 2015);
this Circuit, there is no single test for evaluating a
proposed settlement under Rule 23(e).” Stephens v.
U.S. Airways Group, Inc., 102 F.Supp.3d 222, 226 (D.D.C.
courts consider the facts and circumstances of the case, and
examine the following factors: (a) whether the settlement is
the result of arms-length negotiations; (b) the terms of the
settlement in relation to the strength of plaintiffs'
case; (c) the stage of the litigation proceedings at the time
of settlement; (d) the reaction of the class; and (e) the
opinion of experienced counsel.” Id.
(quotations and citation omitted). In analyzing these
factors, the Court's role is a limited one:
It is well-established that courts assume a limited role when
reviewing a proposed class action settlement. They should not
substitute their judgment for that of counsel who negotiated
the settlement. Rather, courts favor the resolution of
disputes through voluntary compromise, and, therefore,
strongly encourage settlements. In the context of class
actions, settlement is particularly appropriate given the
litigation expenses and judicial resources required in many
such suits. Absent evidence of fraud or collusion, such
settlements are not to be trifled with.
Osher v. SCA Realty I, Inc., 945 F.Supp. 298, 304
(D.D.C. 1996) (citations and quotations omitted).
Reasonableness of ...