Wal-Mart Class Action Defense Cases–Dukes v. Wal-Mart: Ninth Circuit Court Affirms Class Action Certification Of Largest Labor Law Class Action In U.S. History
Labor Law Class Action Alleging Wal-Mart Discriminates Against Female Employees in Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Properly Certified As Nationwide Class Action by District Court Ninth Circuit Holds
Plaintiffs filed a class action against Wal-Mart alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that Wal-Mart discriminates against its female employees. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., ___ F.3d ___ (9th Cir. April 26, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 6137, 6146]. According to the allegations underlying the class action complaint (originally filed in 2004), Wal-Mart discriminated against women employees in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because “women employed in Wal-Mart stores: (1) are paid less than men in comparable positions, despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority; and (2) receive fewer—and wait longer for—promotions to in-store management positions than men.” Id., at 6147. The class action complaint sought to represent a nationwide class on the grounds “that Wal-Mart’s strong, centralized structure fosters or facilitates gender stereotyping and discrimination, that the policies and practices underlying this discriminatory treatment are consistent throughout Wal-Mart stores, and that this discrimination is common to all women who work or have worked in Wal-Mart stores.” Id. The proposed class included “women employed in a range of Wal-Mart positions, from part-time entry-level hourly employees to salaried managers.” Id. Plaintiffs’ counsel moved the district court to certify the litigation as a class action, defined as “All women employed at any Wal-Mart domestic retail store at any time since December 26, 1998 who have been or may be subjected to Wal-Mart’s challenged pay and management track promotions policies and practices.” Id., at 6148. Defense attorneys opposed class certification and stressed that the proposed class would consist of as many as 1.5 million current and former employees who worked at 3,400 stores in 41 regions. Id., at 6148 and n.3. The district court granted the motion and certified the litigation as a class action, id., at 6146-47. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Circuit Court opinion is quite lengthy, so we simply “hit the highlights” in this article. Defense attorneys may contact the author of the Blog for a more detailed discussion of the case.
The Ninth Circuit spent a considerable amount of time discussing the standard governing district court consideration of class certification under Rule 23 and clarified the “proper standard of Rule 23 adjudication.” See Dukes, at 6149-83. This analysis includes a discussion, and rejection, of the dissent’s “significant proof” standard. See id., at 6177-83. The Circuit Court then turned to the merits of the Rule 23 analysis, beginning with Rule 23(a)(1)’s numerosity requirement, which was not contested given the enormous size of the class. Id., at 6185. The Court also found that Wal-Mart had not waived its right to object to Rule 23(a)(3)’s typicality requirement, see id., at 6209-10, but concluded that the district court did not err in finding that the named-plaintiffs’ claims were sufficiently typical of those of the class: “Even though individual employees in different stores with different managers may have received different levels of pay or may have been denied promotion or promoted at different rates, because the discrimination they claim to have suffered occurred through alleged common practices—e.g., excessively subjective decision making in a corporate culture of uniformity and gender stereotyping—the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that their claims are sufficiently typical to satisfy Rule 23(a)(3).” Id., at 6210. Moreover, “because all female employees faced the same alleged discrimination, the lack of a class representative for each management category does not undermine Plaintiffs’ certification goal.” Id., at 6211. And the Ninth Circuit found no difficulty in finding that the adequacy of representation test in Rule 23(a)(4) had been met. Id., at 6212.