Women Seek Lead Roles in Mass Torts

Lori Andrus a San Francisco plaintiffs lawyer for the last 20 years has held many leadership roles in mass tort cases such as Farmers Group, Bayer and Johnson & Johnson over pay discrimination, defective birth control and other pills.

She hopes more women will follow.

With evidence of an ongoing gender imbalance in mass torts, Andrus and others are hoping to inspire more women to come forward and be appointed in leadership roles by judges.

“There has been incremental progress over the last four decades, but change is not happening fast enough,” Andrus said, who is co-founder of San Francisco plaintiffs firm Andrus Anderson. “We have to think differently.”

According to a new study only an average of 16.6 percent of women are attorneys appointed to a class council or as a part of the plaintiffs steering committee in litigations filed from 2011 to the middle of 2016, “Vying for the Lead in the Boys’ Club,” done by Temple University Law School’s Women in Legal Leadership Project, Dana Alvar. In 2015 according to the study their was an increase to 27.7 percent.

Competition for appointments is high, over one hundred plaintiffs are affected by lawyers who handle litigations. A multi-plaintiff litigation in a leadership role has a huge pay off in the form of prestige and a significant financial outcome.

Andrus was co- class counsel last September and won a discrimination settlement for 300 female lawyers of $4 million against Farmers Group. Although, the Farmers group denied the alligations they still agreed to reform their pay practices. Andrus was appointed to the plaintiffs steering committee in February by a California superior court judge. This case involved a mini- MDL claiming Essure caused serious injuries when women used the device as a birth control.

In the Essure case the majority of leaders we women which included Fidelma Fitzpatrick of Motley Rice as lead counsel.

In Aspen last fall, Andrus encouraged her fellow colleagues to raise female plaintiffs awareness to federal and state court judges at the Women En Mass annual meeting. “They’re the ones who make the appointments,” she said.

Women En Mass is in its fifth year and it currently has a list of 400 women lawyers who share advice. “It’s a myth that women are not out there,” said Andrus. In April Andrus with the help of Adam Moskowitz of Miami plaintiffs firm Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton organized a conference to help increase the number of women and minorities leading class actions and MDLs. Veteran plaintiffs, defense lawyers and 14 federal judges attended the conference held by Duke Law School’s Center for Judicial Studies.

The conference helped start an initiative to create the best mass tort practices including judges who are responsible for appointing lead plaintiff lawyers. Judges have the freedom of deciding and placing lawyers in lead roles in mass torts. They base their decision on ability, experience, and their financial resources. Many of the judges have not been involved in multi- plaintiff case and as a result choose lawyers with prior experience and are usually a group of white men.

SPlaintiff lawyers usually fund litigations which leads to their leading of the litigations. It helps that this small group has deep pockets.

According to Andrus, the organization comes from the plaintiff lawyers, they assemble the leaders followed by the judge sign off. “How that happens can be a bit of a mystery if you are not part of the in-group,” she said.

However, change is in the air. More judges, as in the Essure case are widening the appointment making net.

Andrus also said, “We want the judges to know we’re here, we’re ready and we’re able.” 

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