Pippen v. Iowa: Implications for Interpreting and Distinguishing Dukes

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When a class action goes to trial, it is a notable event, especially when there is over $70 million at stake.  The plaintiffs in Pippen v. Iowa (Iowa Dist. Ct. No. CL10738, filed Jul. 1, 2007) allege that the State of Iowa’s executive branch has systematically discriminated against black employees in hiring and promotion, resulting in an as much as $71 million in lost back pay and underpayment of current employees.  This figure does not include emotional damages, which could bring the total potential judgment to well over $100 million if the approximately 6,000-member class of plaintiffs receives a favorable judgment at trial.

The plaintiffs contend that Iowa neglected to follow its own training, testing, and documentation procedures, resulting in hiring and promotion decisions that are systematically biased against black candidates.  The state refutes these charges with an argument that the plaintiffs’ “unified theory of causation” cannot establish the necessary link between racial bias and statistically significant differences in the hiring and promotion of black and non-black employees, arguing that “African Americans’ employment successes vary widely by department, EEO category, job class and step within the hiring practices.”  Additionally, the state has posited that the proper damage award would be compensatory job interviews, not monetary relief.

Filed in 2007 and certified in September of 2010, Pippen v. Iowa appears to be the first certified Title VII discrimination case to go to trial following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dukes v. Wal-Mart ruling, in which the Supreme Court reversed the certification of a class of approximately 1.5 million female Wal-Mart employees who had alleged discrimination in violation of Title VII.  A finding of liability in Pippen would likely result in an appeal by the defendant, which would inevitably address whether the significant difference in class size—Dukes’ 1.5 million versus the 6,000-member class in Pippen—provides a basis on which to distinguish Dukes.