SCOTUS Hears Wal-Mart Class Action Suit…
Yesterday, The Supreme Court considered one of the largest class action suits it has ever fielded regarding employment discrimination. The Court addressed a case filed by 7 female employees in 2001 alleging widespread discrimination in pay and employment practices in order to determine if it could proceed to trial as a class action suit. The Court reviewed a 9th Circuit ruling from April, 2010 granting class certification for women employed by Wal-Mart any time after December 26, 1998 based upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2). The case was initiated by 60-year old Wal-Mart employee Betty Dukes in 2000 when she alleged that Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, denied her training needed in order for promotion in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The plaintiffs contend that women employed by Wal-Mart are paid less than men in similar positions and are promoted to fewer in-store management positions than are men. In addition, they contend that such treatment of women is rampant throughout the Wal-Mart management hierarchy. Therefore, the plaintiffs sought to certify a class of women employees nationwide who have been subjected to such treatment.
Wal-Mart, however, contends that certifying the class in question conflicts with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, arguing that, “The named plaintiffs’ claims cannot conceivably be typical of the claims of the strangers they seek to represent.” Therefore, they argue that certifying this class would in essence be enacting “a virtually boundless class definition that produces an across-the- board class pervaded by conflicts among its members. This kaleidoscope of claims, defenses, issues, locales, events, and individuals makes it impossible for the named plaintiffs to be adequate representatives of the absent class members.”
In contrast, however, Dukes’ representatives contend that Wal-Mart’s arguments “find no support in Rule 23 or Title VII. Instead, they would subvert the goal of allowing workers to vindicate their rights as a class, precluding certification of all but the smallest employment discrimination cases, and would require this Court to overrule 45 years of civil rights and class action precedent.”
The Supreme Court is merely deciding whether this case can proceed as a class action, and there is more at stake here than the fate of Wal-Mart’s female employees. According to The Guardian, Melissa Hart, director of the Byron R. White Centre for the Study of American Constitutional Law at the University of Colorado School of Law, has pointed out that a decision in favor of Wal-Mart would “make it increasingly difficult for women to challenge discrimination in the work place….[s]hould the courts rule in Dukes’ favor, lawyers expect a whole new set of discrimination class actions to be brought, not just on behalf of women, but also minorities or persons with disabilities. A win for Wal-Mart would be a major blow for nationwide job-bias suits, making it harder to argue that employees who work in different stores and hold different jobs have enough in common to be a class.”
The decision is pending.