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HOFFMANN-LA ROCHE INC. v. RICHARD SPERLING ET AL.

decided: December 11, 1989.

HOFFMANN-LA ROCHE INC., PETITIONER
v.
RICHARD SPERLING ET AL.



ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens, and O'connor, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., joined, post, p. 174.

Author: Kennedy

[ 493 U.S. Page 167]

 JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 81 Stat. 602, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. V), provides that an employee may bring an action on behalf of himself and other employees similarly situated. To resolve disagreement among the Courts of Appeals,*fn1 we granted certiorari on the question whether a district court conducting a suit of this type may authorize and facilitate notice of the pending action. 489 U.S. 1077 (1989).

I

Age discrimination in employment is forbidden by § 4 of the ADEA. 29 U.S.C. § 623 (1982 ed. and Supp. V). Section 7(b) of the ADEA incorporates enforcement provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 52 Stat. 1060, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. V), and provides that the ADEA shall be enforced using certain of the powers, remedies, and procedures of the FLSA. This controversy centers around one of the provisions the ADEA incorporates, which states, in pertinent part, that an action

"may be maintained against any employer . . . in any Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction by any one or more employees for and in behalf of himself or

[ 493 U.S. Page 168]

     themselves and other employees similarly situated. No employee shall be a party plaintiff to any such action unless he gives his consent in writing to become such a party and such consent is filed in the court in which such action is brought." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (1982 ed.).

In 1985, petitioner Hoffman-La Roche Inc. ordered a reduction in work force and discharged or demoted some 1,200 workers. Richard Sperling, a discharged employee and one of the respondents, filed an age discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for himself and all employees similarly situated. With the assistance of counsel, Sperling and some other employees formed a group known as Roche Age Discriminatees Asking Redress (R.A.D.A.R.). The group mailed a letter, on R.A.D.A.R. letterhead, to some 600 employees whom it had identified as potential members of the protected class. The letter advised that an action would be brought against petitioner under the ADEA and invited the addressees to join the suit by filling out and returning an enclosed consent form, thus fulfilling the statutory requirement of joinder by "consent in writing."

Respondents filed this ADEA action in Federal District Court and, through R.A.D.A.R.'s letters and informal contacts, received and filed with the court over 400 consents. To ensure that all potential plaintiffs would receive notice of the suit, respondents moved for discovery of the names and addresses of all similarly situated employees. They also requested that the court send notice to all potential plaintiffs who had not yet filed consents. Petitioner opposed both motions and filed a cross-motion asking the court to invalidate the consents already filed on the ground that the solicitation had been misleading. In addition, petitioner requested that the court send out a "corrective notice" to the individuals who had filed consents.

To resolve these matters the District Court ordered petitioner to produce the names and addresses of the discharged employees. The District Court held that it was "permissible

[ 493 U.S. Page 169]

     for a court to facilitate notice of an ADEA suit to absent class members in appropriate cases, so long as the court avoids communicating to absent class members any encouragement to join the suit or any approval of the suit on its merits." 118 F.R.D. 392, 402 (NJ 1988). The court also authorized respondents to send to all employees who had not yet joined the suit a notice and a consent document, with a text and form approved by the court. The court attached the authorized notice to its interlocutory order. At the end of the approved notice was a statement that the notice had been authorized by the District Court, but that the court had taken no position on the merits of the case. Id., at 417. Finally, the District Court refused to invalidate the consents already filed.

The District Court found that its orders regarding discovery and further notice met the requirements for immediate appeal, 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) (1982 ed., Supp. V), and the Court of Appeals permitted an appeal from that portion of the ruling. The Court of Appeals affirmed the discovery order and the order for further notice, ruling that "there is no legal impediment to court-authorized notice in an appropriate case." 862 F.2d 439, 447 (CA3 1988). The Court of Appeals declined to review the form and contents of the notice to potential plaintiffs and, in particular, it declined to pass upon the concluding statement of the notice stating that it had been authorized by the District Court.

II

As it comes before us, this case presents the narrow question whether, in an ADEA action, district courts may play any role in prescribing the terms and conditions of communication from the named plaintiffs to the potential members of the class on whose behalf the collective action has been brought. We hold that district courts have discretion, in appropriate cases, to implement 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (1982 ed.), as incorporated by 29 U.S.C. § 626(b) (1982 ed.), in ADEA actions by facilitating notice to potential plaintiffs.

[ 493 U.S. Page 170]

     The facts and circumstances of this case illustrate the propriety, if not the necessity, for court intervention in the notice process. As did the Court of Appeals, we decline to examine the terms of the notice used here, or its concluding statement indicating court authorization. We confirm the existence of the trial court's discretion, not the details of its exercise.

The District Court was correct to permit discovery of the names and addresses of the discharged employees. Without pausing to explore alternative bases for the discovery, for instance that the employees might have knowledge of other discoverable matter, we find it suffices to say that the discovery was relevant to the subject matter of the action and that there were no grounds to limit the discovery under the facts and circumstances of this case.

The ADEA, through incorporation of § 216(b), expressly authorizes employees to bring collective age discrimination actions "in behalf of . . . themselves and other employees similarly situated." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (1982 ed.). Congress has stated its policy that ADEA plaintiffs should have the opportunity to proceed collectively. A collective action allows age discrimination plaintiffs the advantage of lower individual costs to vindicate rights by the pooling of resources. The judicial system benefits ...


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