Judge Turns away Class Status for Merck Workers

April 5, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Eleven African American workers, who claim they were victims of racial discrimination, lost their bid to turn their lawsuit against Merck & Co. into a class action.

Senior US District Judge Charles Weiner of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said the claims by potential class members are too different to try together as a group.

The 11 plaintiffs charged that they were denied promotions as less-qualified whites raced up the corporate ladder and were paid less than white workers.

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Uniform Policy

The plaintiffs didn’t show that Merck had a “centralized, uniform policy or practice of discrimination” by the New Jersey-based Merck in six separate facilities spread across five states, the court said.

The plaintiffs had asked that Weiner approve a class made up of all black Merck employees, as well as black former employees who worked there since January 1989.

The class members would be from the Merck manufacturing division at plants in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Georgia, or as sales representatives in the company’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Business Group of Merck’s United States Human Health Division.

“Simply put, resolution of the merits of the claims would degenerate into an unmanageable plethora of multiple individual determinations for each individual proposed class member,” wrote. Weiner. 

After outlining the claims of each of the 11 original plaintiffs, Weiner found that the case cannot be resolved without delving into each plaintiff’s “own discrete factual scenario.”

Weiner found that the proposed class could number more than 5,000 workers.

The suit also charged that Merck managers had broad discretion in how to enforce the company’s equal opportunity policy and that Merck has no mechanism to make sure managers are achieving the policy’s goal.

The case is in Webb v. Merck & Co.