The plaintiffs in the case — represented by the tort firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach — filed two motions, one seeking a settlement with 19 apparel retailers and vendors and the other seeking class-action on behalf of Saipan garment workers for the case against the U.S. companies and Saipan factories that are still fighting the suit.
Al Meyerhoff, an attorney with Milberg Weiss, said he expected the court to rule on the motions within the next two months.
“We have law, logic and morality on our side,” he said in a phone interview.
Milberg Weiss shocked the industry when it filed the $1 billion series of blockbuster suits in January 1999, alleging that U.S. retailers and wholesalers knew they were exploiting workers in the U.S. territory. The suit charges some of the territory’s 15,000 garment workers were held in a form of indentured servitude — while they paid back “recruitment fees” as high as $7,000 — and forced to work 12-hour days on garments that would ultimately bear a “Made in the U.S.A.” label.
The initial suit named 18 U.S. corporations, including Sears, Roebuck, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi Strauss and the Gap. Eager to avoid a nasty court battle, companies including Sears and Hilfiger agreed to settle the suit. Other firms including Donna Karan and Polo Ralph Lauren — who were not named in the initial suit — also agreed to join the settlement to avoid legal action.
However, several U.S. companies — including Gap, J.C. Penney, Levi’s, Target Stores and Abercrombie & Fitch — as well as the named factories have decided to fight the suit. Labor sources describe Gap as the primary driver of that group.
A Gap spokesman said the company would not comment on the motions until the judge rules on them. A Levi’s spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation. Representatives of the other companies could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
The 19 settling companies agreed to implement a system of independent monitoring at the Saipan factories. The $8.75 million settlement notes that they admit no wrongdoing.
Last fall, a U.S. District judge upheld the suit’s claim that the companies in question could be charged under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, traditionally used in cases against organized crime.
Another related suit, brought by Milberg Weiss on behalf of UNITE in northern California, accuses the targeted companies of using misleading advertising in their claims that they do not buy from sweatshops.
Meyerhoff said that case is on hold while the California Supreme Court considers a similar case brought against Nike.