U.S. District Judge Pamela Ann Rymer withheld a key decision Tuesday on a class-action suit filed by the Directors Guild of America and nine individuals against Warner Bros. and Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. The suit charges that the studios practice discrimination against women and minorities as directors and in related job categories.
The action came after 90 minutes of oral argument over "class certification," a question that must be resolved before such a suit can go to trial. In her initial, but not binding ruling, Rymer said that the guild could not represent its women and minority members in the suit because that would be a "conflict of interest." Rymer also ruled that the lawyers for both the guild and the other plaintiffs "cannot represent the class because of their representation of DGA."
Rymer also tentatively ruled that until the status of the plaintiff attorneys is resolved she could not determine whether the nine individual plaintiffs--four against Warner Bros., fiver against Columbia--adequately represented the class. She expressed "a number of concerns" about that matter.
In both his opening and closing remarks, Walter Cochran-Bond, representing the DGA and the nine plaintiffs, argued that the tentative ruling would be "a death knell" to the suit. He said that as "a practical matter" his law firm (Hunt & Cochran-Bond) was the only one with sufficient experience in the issues covered by the suit and that the clients themselves should decide who should represent them.
Most, if not all, of the plaintiffs in the courtroom were in a glum mood. The atmosphere changed when Rymer told Cochran-Bond, "Make an assumption that the DGA is out, and you stay in."
Rymer asked if "there was a way to solve" a "potential conflict of interest" matter, specifically if there was a mechanism to inform the "class" of DGA lawyer participation in collective bargaining agreements with the studios. Rymer asked lawyers for both sides to deliver briefs on the matter to her by Tuesday.
Robert A. Siegel of O'Melveny & Myers, representing Columbia Pictures, speculated after the court session that he thought Rymer's tentative ruling would stand. Cochran-Bond indicated after Rymer's postponement that he believed the suit was still alive.