Gap Resists Settlement of Saipan Sweatshop Suit

| March 15, 2002

Gap Resists Settlement of Saipan Sweatshop Suit

Three years after attorneys for sweatshop laborers in Saipan proposed an $8.75 million settlement in a landmark class-action suit brought against Gap and 27 other clothing retailers, the San Francisco-based clothing giant is not only refusing to settle, it's also trying to block other retailers from settling.

'We're alleging an overarching conspiracy, a scheme,' San Francisco labor attorney Michael Rubin tells Jenny Strasburg in the San Francisco Chronicle. 'I don't mind Gap fighting this case and taking it to trial . . . (but) what I don't understand is: Why is Gap blocking these other companies from settling?'

David Schwarz, an attorney for J Crew, one of the defendents in the case, said he supported Gap's efforts to improve factory conditions but added that he did not understand the company's decision to 'stand in the way of a consensual agreement' to settle the case.

Gap officials counter that the company is opposing the settlement to 'defend itself against false accusations and misrepresentations of factory conditions.' Its attorneys argue that the suit does not meet the requirements of a class-action case because the plaintiffs did not experience the same work and living conditions.

Attorneys for the workers, including Rubin and heavyweight class-action specialists Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, are seeking class certification of an estimated 30,000 workers employed on the island between 1989 and now. The suit alleges that retailers and large factory owners have been 'perpetuating a system of indentured servitude among mostly poor guest workers, many of them from China.'

Meanwhile tensions are growing among holdouts and defendants because of the increasing litigation costs, Strasburg notes. A March 19 hearing will consider the dismissal of the case; if not granted, the defendants will probably settle after all.
--Sara V. Buckwitz
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