Kaiser Inks $7.4M Deal To Settle Latinx Workers’ Bias Suit
Law360, April 23, 2021
By Anne Cullen
Kaiser Permanente will pay $7.4 million to end a lawsuit alleging it underpaid and underpromoted Hispanic and Latinx workers in California, according to a settlement announced Friday, one day after the company unveiled a multimillion-dollar deal resolving similar claims from Black employees.
Friday’s settlement, if approved by the Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, California, will close the book on a proposed class of Hispanic and Latinx employees’ nearly year-old lawsuit claiming the company’s universal pay and promotion policies curbed their wages and advancement.
According to the pact, a copy of which the workers’ legal team provided to Law360, roughly $5 million is earmarked for the class settlement fund. That means it will be divided among the thousands of Hispanic and Latinx employees who worked in administrative support, consulting, or similar positions for Kaiser Permanente in California locations between 2016 and 2021.
The workers’ attorneys, who hail from Bryan Schwartz Law and Nichols Kaster LLP, have asked for $2.2 million in attorneys’ fees. The remaining amount will be split between a service award for the lead plaintiff — Kaiser business analyst Michael Cuenca — as well as settlement administration costs and payment to California’s labor agency, according to the deal.
Kaiser has also agreed to revamp its internal policies to enhance pay equity and promotion fairness within the company, according to the settlement, including retaining independent experts to review job analyses, compensation, promotion practices, career development and other metrics. As part of the pact, a compliance monitor will also be appointed to ensure Kaiser enacts these business practice changes.
“These measures put racial equity front and center within the company and will help to advance a workplace culture that is inclusive and positive for Hispanic and Latinx employees,” the attorneys for the proposed class said in the settlement documents.
The deal was brokered after more than six months of negotiations, according to a news release from Bryan Schwartz Law. It landed a day after Kaiser revealed it will pony up $11.5 million to resolve a lawsuit alleging internal practices similarly disadvantaged thousands of black workers in California.
That lawsuit, which was filed in San Francisco Superior Court this month and was resolved after two years of pre-suit negotiations, accused Kaiser of violating California law by passing Black workers over for promotion and basing merit pay on salary ranges.
Company representative Christian Meisner made clear in a statement that details of both cases “are subject to dispute” but said Kaiserrecognizes “the importance of listening and learning from our employees.”
“To that end, we have chosen to work cooperatively with plaintiff groups to settle two class action cases on negotiated terms, filed on behalf of Black and Latinx administrative support and consulting services employees in California,” Meisner said.
In Cuenca’s case, if the workers win initial approval of the pact, they will notify the approximately 2,500 class members of the plan.
Bryan Schwartz, an attorney for Cuenca, said in a statement Friday that his client “raised these issues of racial and ethnic discrimination and pay disparities, in part, to help create better job opportunities for Hispanic and Latino Californians and believes this settlement will help move Kaiser in that direction.”
Nichols Kaster’s Matthew Helland, who also represents Cuenca, said in the same statement that the pact “gives life to the promise of the California Equal Pay Act, resulting in millions of dollars of monetary payments for wages we believe Latinx employees deserve.
“The proposed class is represented by Bryan J. Schwartz, Jennifer A. Reisch and Samuel L. Goldsmith of Bryan Schwartz Law and by Matthew C. Helland, Robert L. Schug and Neil D. Pederson of Nichols Kaster LLP.
Kaiser is represented by Amanda Bolliger of GBG LLP.
The case is Cuenca et al. v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan et al., case number RG20065123, in the Alameda County Superior Court In Oakland, California.
— Additional reporting by Rachel Stone. Editing by Leah Bennett.
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