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Press Release 04-02-2015

Sheet Metal Union Agrees to Pay an Estimated $12 Million in Partial Settlement of Race Bias Lawsuit

EEOC and Others Charged Local 28 with Discriminating Against Black and Hispanic Workers for Many Years

NEW YORK - Subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association, the trade union for sheet metal journeypersons in New York City, has agreed to create a back pay fund for a group of minority sheet metal workers in partial settlement of race discrimination claims against the local union.  Pursuant to the settlement, it is estimated that the union will pay approximately $12.7 million over the next five years and provide substantial remedial relief to partially resolve claims made against the union by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and others, the agency announced today.  The settlement was achieved after extensive negotiations with the union by the EEOC, the New York State Division of Human Rights, the City of New York, and a class of black and Hispanic union members represented by Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  A hearing is set for July 14 for the court to consider approving the proposed settlement.  

Over the 44-year history of this case, the federal district court issued a number of rulings that Local 28 discriminated against non-white journeypersons on the basis of race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The current settlement covers claims of work-hour disparities based on race for the 15-year period between April 1, 1991 and June 30, 2006.  This settlement supplements a 2008 settlement of $6.2 million that covered back pay claims from January 1, 1984 through March 31, 1991.

The lawsuit (EEOC, et al., v. Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers' Int'l Ass'n, et al., Case No. 71 Civ. 2887 (LAK)) was filed initially in 1971 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the New York State Division of Human Rights, and the City of New York.  The EEOC replaced the Department of Justice as prosecuting counsel in 1974.

Pursuant to the settlement, Local 28 will initially pay over $4 million in damages to journeypersons harmed by the discrimination and then contribute additional millions to a settlement fund over the next five years.  The plaintiffs estimate that total payments will reach about $12.7 million, assuming that work levels remain at or near recent levels.  Judge Lewis A. Kaplan will hold a Fairness Hearing regarding approval of the settlement on July 14, 2015 at 4:30 p.m.  As part of the settlement, Local 28 also agreed to comprehensive reforms designed to equalize work opportunities for non-white and white union members.  These include improved monitoring and investigation of discrimination complaints, an expansion of the use of the union's referral hall to guarantee non-discriminatory hiring decisions, increased education and training opportunities for members, and increased monitoring, analysis, and reporting of potential work-hours disparities by the union to EEOC and other plaintiffs.

"I am pleased that we have been able to negotiate this partial settlement that includes strong injunctive relief as well as individual relief," said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez. "This case demonstrates EEOC's longstanding commitment to achieving equal access to jobs regardless of race."

EEOC New York Regional Attorney Robert D. Rose said, "This partial settlement of EEOC's longstanding litigation against Local 28, if approved, is a big step forward for black and Hispanic sheet metal workers.  The EEOC will continue to enforce the court orders in this case until full and lasting equality for those workers is realized."  

"We are pleased that the Court will have a hearing in July on the proposed back pay settlement, and we are hopeful that the class members will soon be able to receive long-awaited compensation for past inequities in work allocation.  We are also hopeful that the enhanced injunctive measures ordered by the Court will help to promote a more fair distribution of work opportunities in the future," said Wendy B. Reilly, counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

Barbara Arnwine, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, added that, "We are pleased with the results, which are a testament to the unstinting efforts contributed by all counsel, particularly the attorneys at Debevoise & Plimpton who have served as our co-counsel for the class.  This proposed settlement reflects the beneficial results that can be achieved for victims of discrimination when the private bar joins forces with government enforcement agencies, as the Lawyers' Committee has been doing for over 50 years."

"The proposed settlement, if approved, will be a major step forward in what has been a decades-long process to end discrimination against Black and Hispanic members of Local 28 and restore their lost wages," said Joshua Rubin, Senior Counsel at the New York City Law Department.  "We will continue working to ensure that Local 28 adopts and maintains good practices at the union going forward so that all of its members are treated fairly, regardless of race or ethnicity."

Eliminating discriminatory barriers to recruitment and hiring is one of EEOC's six nationwide priorities identified in its FY 2013-16 Strategic Enforcement Plan.

The EEOC's New York District Office oversees New York, Northern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at