COURT DISMISSES CLASS ACTION SUIT AGAINST SAIPAN GARMENT FACTORIES

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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 21, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---Convinced that the plaintiffs' identities must be revealed, the U.S. District Court has dismissed the class action suit filed anonymously by 23 alien workers against Saipan's garment factories.

"Fairness dictates that defendants not be constrained to defend against the unknown," District Court Judge Alex Munson stated in an order released Monday.

Munson said the plaintiffs, identified only as "Does I-XXIII," failed to convince the court that they had sufficient claims to support anonymous proceedings.

The case, however, was dismissed "without prejudice," which means that the plaintiffs may revive the case.

The effective date of the dismissal order has been stayed for 45 days to provide opportunity for the plaintiffs to substitute the names of the real parties.

If the plaintiffs fail to act in 45 days, the dismissal order will take effect, the court said.

The lawsuit filed in the federal district court of Saipan was one of three class action suits, amounting to $1 billion, filed by the San Diego-based law firm Milberg-Weiss against garment manufactures on Saipan and their buyers, including Liz Clairborne, Gap, Ralph Lauren and Tom Hillfigger. The two other lawsuits were filed in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Timothy Skinner’s law firm represents the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleged violations of labor and wage laws, breach of contracts, and noncompliance with the Building Safety Code.

The court decided that this lawsuit was not the kind of "unusual" case that warranted anonymous proceedings.

The plaintiffs have maintained their anonymity, citing fears of "reprisal from their employment recruiters" and "fear of prosecution from the Chinese government."

"The Court," Munson wrote, "finds that the fears and many vague administration (matters) recited in plaintiffs' declarations do not amount to a real danger of physical harm.

"Many of the plaintiffs' fears are based on speculation, hearsay and innuendo," the order stated. "Many of the fears expressed revolve around economic retaliation which is not sufficient to support anonymous proceedings."

Munson also said it would be just fair for the defendants to know the names of the plaintiffs to enable them to defend themselves against the allegations in the complaint.

The $1 billion lawsuit has generated political attention in Washington, and drawn the attention of the national media.

Critics of the CNMI refer to Saipan's textile industry as "sweatshop," but garment manufacturers maintain they have been undertaking reforms.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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