December 16, 2019

Applying the Doctrine of res judicata


Plaintiffs brought a putative class action against their employer, the New York City Housing Authority [“NYCHA”], and their labor union, Defendant-Appellee Union Local 237, I.B.T. [the “Union”] alleging that NYCHA paid them less than similarly situated white employees and that their Union tacitly approved and encouraged this discriminatory compensation scheme, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1981, the Equal Protection Clause, and the New York City Human Rights Law [“NYCHRL”].

In March 2017, the District Court [Schofield, J.] granted summary judgment in favor of NYCHA and the Union, finding that the record contained insufficient evidence of discriminatory animus.

The Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, affirmed this judgment on appeal [See Wynn v. New York City Hous. Auth., 730 F. App’x 92].

Plaintiffs then filed a second action against the Union [“Wynn II”], this time alleging that the Union violated Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., by allowing NYCHA to pay them less than similarly situated white employees.

The District Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ amended complaint under Rule 12[b][6], concluding that their claims were precluded by res judicata. Plaintiffs then filed this timely appeal.

In Wynn II, Plaintiffs seek to hold the Union liable for “acquiesc[ing]” to NYCHA’s allegedly discriminatory compensation scheme. Plaintiffs’ Title VII claims are therefore based on their labor union’s failure to advocate for higher wages, not on their employer’s decision to pay them less than the prevailing wage rate. As a result, Plaintiffs cannot benefit from the Ledbetter Act, which, as this Court and other circuits have recognized, was directed “to a very specific type of claim: that the employer is ‘paying different wages or providing different benefits to similarly situated employees.’”

As the Ledbetter decision specifically dealt with a pay-discrimination claim that was cognizable without regard to other adverse employment actions, the Circuit Court found that the Ledbetter Act’s reference to ‘discrimination in compensation’ was to traditional pay-discrimination claims rather than to a pay reduction that flows from another adverse employment action.”

Accordingly, said the court, the Ledbetter Act does not save Plaintiffs’ Title VII claims from the application of res judicata.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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