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Qualcomm Agrees To Rare $19.5M Presuit Class Bias Deal

 

By Kat Greene

 

Law360, Los Angeles (July 26, 2016, 7:10 PM EDT) -- Qualcomm agreed to pay $19.5 million and change policies to pay and promote women on the same scale as men to end a proposed gender discrimination class action before it even began in a “literally unparalleled” move, according to court papers filed Tuesday in California federal court.

Qualcomm Technologies Inc. will pay a class of about 3,300 current and former female employees and change its corporate practices, including adding a compliance officer and conducting a regular statistical analysis of its pay practices to keep its pay and promotion equal among similarly situated men and women, according to a motion for preliminary approval of the settlement filed with the complaint.

The deal was struck after two days of mediation in April and June, according to the papers. The parties had exchanged evidence and conducted expert analysis of the materials related to the case since former employee Dandan Pan lodged a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year, court records show.

“The fact that the parties were able to reach such a favorable settlement without years of risky and costly litigation is literally unparalleled,” the workers said in the settlement motion. “The fact that the proposed settlement was reached by experienced counsel — informed by discovery and aided by an experienced neutral — favors approval.”

If approved as is, the arrangement would pay out about $3,953 on average to class members, and nearly $6,000 apiece to employees who’ve worked at the company longer, according to the filings. The plaintiffs’ attorneys are asking for about $5.85 million in fees and costs.

A group of seven current and former employees at Qualcomm in science, technology, engineering and math-related roles accused the company of systemic gender discrimination stemming from its promotion policies.

Pan initiated the action by filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC in October, alleging in part that the male leadership at the company discriminated against female employees, according to court papers.

For example, Qualcomm didn’t post positions that were open for employees seeking promotion, instead hinging career advancement on managers, many of whom are men, according to the suit. The effects of the sponsorship model meant that more men were chosen and groomed for promotions, the women said.

And women who were caring for children had it even tougher, according to the suit. Qualcomm’s policy discouraged taking leave and rewarded workers who stayed late at the office regardless of productivity.

Qualcomm has denied the allegations, and the economic expert it hired to review the documents produced in the result negotiations said the discrimination allegations were unfounded, according to Tuesday’s filings. The company also maintains that, absent a settlement, the claims couldn’t be heard as a class.

David Sanford of Sanford Heisler LLP, which represents the class, told Law360 on Tuesday that Qualcomm’s willingness to settle the case early is a great credit to the company, and that the changes proposed as part of the settlement will have long-lasting impacts on current and future employees.

“Litigation is a terrible way to resolve disputes in this country. When parties can come together and participate in a fair and transparent process ... it’s a preferable outcome for everyone,” Sanford said. “Qualcomm is to be given credit for stepping up and doing the right thing.”

A spokesperson for Qualcomm didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The employees are represented by David Sanford, Felicia Medina, Xinying Valerian, Danielle Fuschetti, Ed Chapin and Jill Sanford of Sanford Heisler LLP.

Qualcomm is represented by Nancy Abell of Paul Hastings LLP.

The case is Dandan Pan et al. v. Qualcomm Inc. et al., case number 3:16-cv-01885, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

--Editing by Brian Baresch.