U.S. High Court to Hear Walmart Gender Discrimination Suit

WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 6 agreed to consider only one question in the appeal filed by Walmart seeking to overturn a California federal judge's decision to certify a class of more than 1 million current and former female employees who claim that the nation's largest retailer discriminated against them based on their gender (Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Betty Dukes, et al., No. 10-277, U.S. Sup.; See 9/2/2010, Page 4).

The high court justices limited their review in the case, which has been touted as the largest employment class action ever to be certified, to the first question presented:  "Whether the class certification ordered under [Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 23(b)(2) was consistent with Rule 23(a)."

On June 8, 2001, Betty Dukes, Patricia Surgeson, Cleo Page, Deborah Gunter, Karen Williamson, Christine Kwapnowski and Edith Arana sued Walmart Stores Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking to represent a class of approximately 1.6 million of its employees at 3,400 stores across the United States.

The plaintiffs claim that the Bentonville, Ark., company made discriminatory decisions based on gender in determining female employees' pay and eligibility for promotions, resulting in billions of dollars in damages.

On June 22, 2004, Judge Martin Jenkins certified a class of all current and former employees of Walmart who worked at its U.S. stores at any time since Dec. 26, 1998.  On Dec. 11, 2007, a panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals asked that Judge Jenkins limit the class to exclude workers who were not employed by Walmart at the time the plaintiffs filed their initial class action complaint on June 19, 2001.

On April 26, the en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed the panel's 2007 ruling by a vote of 6-5.  Walmart then petitioned the high court.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the Dec. 17 issue.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]

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For more information, call editor Bajeerah LaCava at 215-988-7731, or e-mail her at bajeerah.lacava@lexisnexis.com.