Fighting for Women's Equality

Virginia Judge Greenlights ERA Suit Against Defense Contractor

June 12, 2014 | by
A federal judge in Virginia gave the green light to a proposed class action lawsuit against BAE Systems, filed by Equal Rights Advocates and the Law Offices of Joshua Friedman, which alleges that the defense contractor discriminates against women workers at its Norfolk shipyard.

The women of BAE Ship Repair in Norfolk

The women of BAE Ship Repair in Norfolk

The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, is Janet Aviles, et al. v. BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, 2:13-CV418. BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair is a subsidiary of BAE Systems, the second largest global defense contractor.

The decision  comes after the defendants, represented by the law firm of Paul Hastings, LLP, moved to strike the class allegations entirely and to dismiss portions of plaintiffs’ claims on the grounds that the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes precludes the Aviles plaintiffs from pursuing any class claims against their employer for systematically discriminating against female employees.

In her order denying BAE’s motions, Judge Arenda Wright Allen rejects these arguments, and finds that Wal-Mart allows for the certification of a class like the one proposed in Aviles when there is significant proof that an employer has “operated under a general policy of discrimination.”

“This sound decision demonstrates that Title VII is not a dead letter and class actions are still needed to enforce it. Even after Wal-Mart v. Dukes, it is both possible and appropriate to bring class claims where a company has a general policy or practice of discriminating against women,” said Equal Rights Advocates Legal Director Jennifer Reisch. “The order makes clear that the Wal-Mart decision is not a magic wand that defendants can just wave over every pattern or practice case to make it go away, especially before any discovery has been conducted.”

At BAE Systems Ship Repair in Norfolk, hostility toward women and “boys’ club” attitudes start at the top, with its all-male management team, and percolate through the ranks. These attitudes limit opportunities for women like Janet Aviles to work and get paid on equal footing with male co-workers. From the time they are initially hired and assigned to lower-paying positions than similarly qualified men, women at BAE are denied equal opportunities and face obstacles their male peers do not when it comes to training, overtime, pay raises, and promotions. They are also forced to work in an environment that is charged with sexual harassment and misogyny.

Plaintiffs’ counsel estimates that the proposed class will include at least 100 former and current employees. For more information about the case, or if you have worked at BAE and feel you’ve been subjected to gender-based discrimination or harassment, contact ERA at 415-621-0672.

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