Race Discrimination Class Action Denied by Third Circuit Court of Appeals

The Third Circuit, which governs Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, applied a strict interpretation of Rule 23(f) and affirmed dismissal of a class action against Johnson & Johnson. The case, Gutierrez v. Johnson & Johnson, was filed by African-American and Hispanic former J&J employees alleging race discrimination–8,600 employees in all.

The federal District Court in New Jersey declined to certify the group as a class. Notably, the court found that the group had failed to identify any J&J policy that was discriminatory. The court also cited the diversity and size of the group as factors weighing against class certification.

Now, hang in there, this is where it starts to get complicated.

The potential class could have filed an appeal with the Third Circuit after the District Court issued its decision denying certification. But, instead, they wanted to file a motion for reconsideration. J&J agreed to an extension of time for the employee to file their motion. The court granted the requested extension but eventually denied the motion for reconsideration, upholding its denial of class status.

The employee-petitioners sought permission tofile an interlocutory appeal with the Third Circuit. The petition was filed within ten days of the District Court’s denial of their motion for reconsideration but 125 days after the original decision denying class certification.

A petition to appeal must be filed within 10 days. When a motion for reconsideration is timely filed, though, the 10 day-clock stops running until the motion is decided. Here, the employee-petitioners filed their motion within the deadline set by the District Court’s scheduling order. That was not enough for the Third Circuit. Instead, the court found that the 10-day requirement was mandatory–within 10 days of the decision denying class certification, the party has 10, and only 10, days within which to file an appeal.

The fact that the motion for reconsideration was timely for purposes of the District Court’s scheduling order did not matter. According to the Third Circuit, much to Johnson & Johnson’s relief, Rule 23(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is strict and mandatory.

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