U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Dukes v. Wal-Mart Petition on Scope of Class Actions

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On December 6, 2010, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., v. Dukes, no. 10-277, agreeing to hear Wal-Mart's appeal of a California district court's order certifying a class alleging sex discrimination in the workplace.

Although the claims in Dukes specifically relate to Wal-Mart's alleged unfair employment practices concerning paying and promoting women, the Supreme Court's decision, expected in summer of 2011, could dramatically affect the class action landscape for all large companies, including insurers.

Class action litigators following Dukes have been particularly interested in whether a class can be "too big" to certify.

In Dukes, six named plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart -- the nation's largest employer -- discriminates against women in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They seek to certify a nationwide class encompassing thousands of women employed by Wal-Mart at any time since December 26, 1998, in a range of positions, from part-time, entry-level hourly employees to salaried managers. The proposed class involves 3,400 Wal-Mart stores in 41 regions. Wal-Mart's counsel estimates the class size could exceed 1.5 million women. Given the size of this class, billions of dollars are potentially at stake.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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