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Gulf Oil Co. v. Bernard

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In Brief

The Court held that in order for a district court to prohibit communications between counsel and potential class members, there must be clear findings of fact and demonstrated abuses.

 

What Happened in Court

Bernard was the named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Gulf Oil in which he alleged discrimination based on race and gender. Consistent with an agreement with the EEOC, Gulf Oil began sending notices to 643 employees who were eligible for backpay and identifying the amount that the company believed each was owed. Soon after these releases were sent, an attorney for Bernard began meeting with these employees and convincing them not to sign the agreements because they could win more through a class action suit. Gulf Oil successfully argued for an order from the District Court prohibiting communication between the attorney and with potential class members. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court which found that the District Court’s decision to issue the Order was improper. Specifically, the Court held that in order for a district court to prohibit communications between counsel and potential class members, there must be clear findings of fact and demonstrated abuses.

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