Gap Resists Settlement of Saipan Sweatshop Suit

Gap Resists Settlement of Saipan Sweatshop

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

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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