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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes - 564 U.S. 338, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011)


Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 does not set forth a mere pleading standard. A party seeking class certification must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance with the Rule--that is, he must be prepared to prove that there are in fact sufficiently numerous parties, common questions of law or fact, etc. Sometimes it may be necessary for a court to probe behind the pleadings before coming to rest on the certification question, and certification is proper only if the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied. Actual, not presumed, conformance with Rule 23(a) remains indispensable. Frequently that "rigorous analysis" will entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim. That cannot be helped. The class determination generally involves considerations that are enmeshed in the factual and legal issues comprising the plaintiff's cause of action. Nor is there anything unusual about that consequence: The necessity of touching aspects of the merits in order to resolve preliminary matters, e.g., jurisdiction and venue, is a familiar feature of litigation.


Petitioner operated retail stores and was the nation's largest private employer. Respondent employees brought a class action suit alleging sex discrimination in pay and promotions by petitioner. The district court granted the employees' motion for class certification. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit substantially affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Was the certification of the plaintiff class violative of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a) and (b)(2)?




The Supreme Court held that the employees' class could not be certified because the action did not satisfy the commonality requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(2). The employees failed to offer significant proof that the employer operated under a general policy of discrimination. An expert who testified that the employer had a strong corporate culture that made it vulnerable to gender bias did not determine how often stereotypes played a meaningful role in employment decisions. The employees' statistical and anecdotal evidence did not show that a common mode of exercising managerial discretion pervaded the entire company. In addition, the employees' backpay claims were improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(2), which did not allow certification of monetary relief claims that were not incidental to injunctive or declaratory relief.


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