Blue Cross Workers’ Class Action Remanded

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Ninth Circuit remanded to Superior Court a consolidated class action accusing Blue Cross of race- and gender-based employment discrimination.
     The consolidated class action sprang from two complaints, filed 13 minutes apart in San Francisco Superior Court in 2011. Both accused Blue Cross of California and Anthem Blue Cross Life and Health Insurance Company of discrimination. One claimed that African-American and female employees were paid less than their white male counterparts, the other that Blue Cross denied them promotions based on race and gender.
     In their long journey through the courts, the cases were transferred to Los Angeles Superior Court, where they were consolidated. After being removed to L.A. Federal Court, the plaintiffs were split into two classes, creating what the Ninth Circuit called “the incongruous result” of sending the promotion discrimination claim to Federal Court and the wage discrimination claim to state court.
     The Central District (federal) court in L.A. separated the classes, citing the local controversy exception in the federal Class Action Fairness Act. The local controversy exception is a four-pronged test to ensure that class actions where both plaintiffs and defendants are concentrated in one geographical area are not transferred to Federal Court, “because state courts have a strong interest in adjudicating such disputes.”
     The federal judge ruled that the local controversy exception applied only to the wage discrimination class, and remanded it to state court, while retaining jurisdiction over the promotions class.
     Writing for a three-judge panel on Aug. 20, Judge Barry Silverman disagreed.
     The fourth prong of the local controversy exception requires that no similar class actions have been filed in the same court within the past three years. Silverman found it improper for the district court to view the two class actions as separate cases after they had been consolidated.
     The district court sided with Blue Cross, which had argued that because the two class actions were similar and had been filed within three years of one another, the local controversy exception did not apply to either one.
     The plaintiffs claimed that Los Angeles Superior Court’s initial decision to consolidate meant it should be evaluated as a single case, and sole one of its kind in the past three years.
     Silverman remanded, ordering the Superior Court “to treat the class actions as a single consolidated case and remand in its entirety to state court.”
     Plaintiff-appellants Ebony Bridewell-Sledge et al. are represented by Andre Balardini, with Myles, Knapp, Peterson & Clark.
     Wellpoint et al. are represented by Seyfarth Shaw.

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