WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) The U.S. Supreme Court on
June 20 reversed certification of a class of more than 1 million current and
former female employees of the nation's largest retailer after finding that
certification was not consistent with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) (Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc. v. Betty Dukes, et al., No. 10-277, U.S. Sup.; See 4/1/11,
Page 5) (lexis.com subscribers may access Supreme Court briefs for this case).
"Rule 23(a)(2) requires a party seeking class
certification to prove that the class has common 'questions of law or
fact.' Their claims must depend upon a common contention of such a nature
that it is capable of classwide resolution - which means that determination of
its truth or falsity will resolve an issue that is central to the validity of
each one of the claims in one stroke. Here, proof of commonality
necessarily overlaps with respondents' merits contention that Wal-Mart engages
in a pattern or practice of discrimination. The crux of a Title VII [of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964] inquiry is 'the reason for a particular
employment decision,' Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond,
867, 876, and respondents wish to sue for millions of employment decisions at
once. Without some glue holding together the alleged reasons for those
decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class
members' claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination
question," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court.
The justices all also agreed that the employees' back pay
claims were improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(2).
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M.
Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. joined in the
opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor
and Elena Kagan partially joined in the opinion.
The court, however, was divided on whether class
certification also was barred under Rule 23(b)(3)'s requirement that common
questions "predominate" over individuals ones. Although the majority
opined that the employees failed to establish the existence of a common
question, Justice Ginsburg, in her partially dissenting opinion, held that
since the question of whether the employees met the specific requirements of
Rule 23(b)(3) was not before the court, that matter should be reserved for
consideration and decision on remand.
Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined in Justice
On June 8, 2001, Betty Dukes, Patricia Surgeson, Cleo
Page, Deborah Gunter, Karen Williamson, Christine Kwapnowski and Edith Arana
sued Wal-Mart 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 Wal-Mart who worked at its U.S. stores at
any time since Dec. 26, 1998. On Dec. 11, 2007, a Ninth Circuit U.S.
Court of Appeals panel asked that Judge Jenkins limit the class to exclude
workers who were not employed by Wal-Mart at the time the plaintiffs filed
their first amended complaint on June 19, 2001.
On April 26, 2010, the en banc Ninth Circuit
affirmed the panel's 2007 ruling by a vote of 6-5. Wal-Mart then petitioned the
high court. The justices agreed Dec. 6 to hear the appeal. Oral
arguments were held March 29.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the June
22 issue. In the meantime, the order is available at www.mealeysonline.com or
by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document
#43-110600-012Z. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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