How Many Plaintiffs Are Enough? Venue in Title VII Class Actions

This Article critiques the recent rash of federal district court opinions holding that all named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit alleging employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must satisfy the venue requirements in the court where they filed the action. Neither the text nor the history of Title VII requires this prevailing interpretation; to the contrary, requiring every named plaintiff to satisfy venue requirements in the same court undermines the legislative purpose behind both Title VII and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 by creating a new obstacle to employees seeking to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws and vindicate their rights. Though the district court opinions have all reached the wrong conclusion, no appellate court has ruled on this issue either way, and no academic article has addressed the issue.

Title VII, which was intended to expand plaintiffs’ options for venue, gives plaintiffs three choices of venue plus an additional “last resort” venue if the defendant is not available in any of the first three places. Rule 23, which governs the certification of federal class actions, was intended to encourage employees to bring class actions against employers that discriminated against them as a class. But the prevailing interpretation of Title VII’s venue provision narrows plaintiffs’ venue choices and erects a new barrier to Rule 23 class certification that forces plaintiffs to either litigate in their last resort venue or to abandon the nationwide class action vehicle and proceed in individual or statewide actions instead.

The prevailing interpretation also makes little sense as a matter of judicial economy. It will inevitably lead to more procedural complexity and duplicative litigation, and it is inconsistent with interpretations of other Title VII procedural requirements, such as the filing and exhaustion requirements.

This Article calls for examination and reversal of the trend of rulings requiring all named plaintiffs to satisfy venue in Title VII class actions, and adoption of a rule granting venue to all class members as long as one named plaintiff satisfies the venue requirements.