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United States v. State, Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 11, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND; RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM E. SMITH, CHIEF JUDGE

         Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond filed a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (ECF No. 88) in this case, recommending the Court overrule all objections to the terms of the proposed settlement agreement and grant the parties' Joint Motion for Final Approval of the Settlement Agreement (ECF No. 85). Prospective claimant Jayson Badillo has objected (ECF No. 93) to the R&R. For the following reasons, the Court accepts the R&R over Badillo's objection.

         The United States brought this action against Rhode Island, challenging aspects of the hiring process the state used to select entry-level correctional officers. The United States alleged that the at-issue processes had a disparate impact on minority candidates, in violation of Title VII. After extensive discovery, some motion practice, and one failed settlement conference, the parties reached a settlement after Magistrate Judge Almond held a second conference.

         The settlement agreement presented to the Court requires Rhode Island to implement a hiring process that complies with Title VII, to hire up to thirty-seven prospective claimants, and to provide monetary relief of $450, 000 to be distributed pro rata. (See ECF No. 80-1.)

         Badillo objects that the proposed settlement is substantively inadequate and the product of unfair procedure. The Court reviews Magistrate Judge Almond's recommended disposition de novo, Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3), and decides whether the settlement is “fair, reasonable, and adequate, ” Hutchinson ex rel. Julien v. Patrick, 636 F.3d 1, 10 (1st Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted), even if not “the settlement . . . which the court itself might have fashioned, or considers as ideal, ” United States v. Cannons Eng'g Corp., 899 F.2d 79, 84 (1st Cir. 1990). In so doing, the Court “must exercise some deference to the [United States]'s determination that settlement is appropriate . . . and refrain from second-guessing the Executive Branch.” Conservation Law Found. of New England, Inc. v. Franklin, 989 F.2d 54, 58 (1st Cir. 1993) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The Court is also mindful of “the policy of the law to encourage settlements, ” especially where, as here, “a government actor committed to the protection of the public interest has pulled the laboring oar in constructing the proposed settlement.” Cannons Eng'g, 899 F.2d at 84.

         After close review of the proposed settlement, hearing transcript, and the relevant submissions, the Court concludes that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate. As the parties point out, Badillo objects to a different case. For example, he cites myriad authority concerning the propriety of relief provided after a finding as to liability. See, e.g., Chin v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 685 F.3d 135, 140-41 (2d Cir. 2012); Anderson v. Brennan, 254 F.Supp.3d 253, 255-56 (D. Mass. 2017); United States v. R.I. Dep't of Emp't Sec., 619 F.Supp. 509, 511 (D.R.I. 1985). Here, there is no such finding. The parties stipulated to the plaintiff's prima facie case, but did not do so as to the rest of plaintiff's disparate-impact claim. See Jones v. City of Bos., 752 F.3d 38, 54 (1st Cir. 2014) (“Once a plaintiff has made a prima facie showing of a disparate impact, the burden shifts to the employer to show that the challenged practice is job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity. If the employer makes such a showing, a plaintiff has one final path to success, by proving the existence of an alternative employment practice . . . .” (citation and quotation marks omitted)). On the contrary, the parties aggressively litigated these issues. Unlike the cases Badillo cites, the merits remained unresolved while the parties negotiated a settlement. Entirely inappropriate, then, is a comparison between what a plaintiff without a favorable liability judgment negotiated and what plaintiffs who prevailed as to liability won in damages.

         Badillo also cites cases involving only private parties. See, e.g., In re Pet Food Prods. Liab. Litig., 629 F.3d 333, 336 (3d Cir. 2010); In re Wireless Tel. Fed. Cost Recovery Litig., 396 F.3d 922, 926 (8th Cir. 2005); Cotter v. Lyft, Inc., 176 F.Supp.3d 930, 931 (N.D. Cal. 2016). These cases are inapposite insofar as any settlement reached is afforded less deference than the one here, where a government plaintiff has done the negotiating.

         Badillo highlights Ross v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 267 F.Supp.3d 174 (D.D.C. 2017), as a case the Court should use to guide its determination of the proposed settlement's fairness. Ross is of little help, however. In that case, the court rejected a proposed agreement to settle a disparate-impact claim brought by a current and former employee of Lockheed Martin against the company. Id. at 179-80. But there, the negotiated settlement contemplated that plaintiffs (and those in their proposed class) would “release a broad swath of potential legal claims against the company, including claims that ha[d] nothing whatsoever to do with [the employment practice at issue].” Id. at 179. The Ross settlement also punished class members who failed to respond to the class notice. Id. at 202. A non-respondent would “release all of [her] race discrimination claims against Lockheed Martin[, and would] also become ineligible to recover any compensation from the settlement fund.” Id. (emphasis omitted). In short, the similarities between Ross and this case begin and end with the fact that, in both, plaintiffs bring disparate-impact claims.

         Badillo also complains about Magistrate Judge Almond holding the fairness hearing when he had previously held the settlement conference from which the agreement sprang. Badillo again cites inapposite cases - where, for example, a judge recused himself because his prior involvement in the parties' settlement negotiations turned him into a potential fact witness on a subsequent motion, Decker v. GE Healthcare Inc., 770 F.3d 378, 390 (6th Cir. 2014), or where a judge was to try a case he worked to settle, Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 405 F.3d 257, 260 (5th Cir. 2005) .

         Here, Magistrate Judge Almond is not at risk of being called as a fact witness. Nor is he in line to try this case. Indeed, he is not even disposing of it, but rather providing this Court a recommended disposition. Nothing in the record suggests that Magistrate Judge Almond did other than hear, carefully consider, and, ultimately, overrule the objections made to the settlement agreement.

         The Court ACCEPTS Magistrate Judge Almond's R&R for the foregoing reasons. Objections to the settlement agreement are hereby overruled, and the parties' Joint Motion for Final Approval of Settlement Agreement (ECF No. 85) GRANTED.

         IT IS SO ORDERED.

         February 8, 2018

         C.A. ...


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