U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Gender Discrimination Class Action Against Wal-Mart

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On June 20, 2011, the United States Supreme Court released its widely-anticipated decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, et al., 564 U.S. ___ (2011) ("Wal-Mart"). In Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and held that the proposed nationwide gender discrimination class action against the retail giant could not proceed. In a decision that will come as welcome news to large employers and other frequent targets of class action lawsuits, the Supreme Court (1) arguably increased the burden that plaintiffs must satisfy to demonstrate "common questions of law or fact" in support of class certification, making class certification more difficult, especially in "disparate impact" discrimination cases; (2) held that individual claims for monetary relief cannot be certified as a class action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), which generally permits class certification in cases involving claims for injunctive and/or declaratory relief; and (3) held that Wal-Mart was entitled to individualized determinations of each proposed class member's eligibility for backpay, rejecting the Ninth Circuit's attempt to replace that process with a statistical formula.

The named plaintiffs in Wal-Mart were three current and former female Wal-Mart employees. They sued Wal-Mart under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that Wal-Mart's policy of giving local managers discretion over pay and promotion decisions negatively impacted women as a group, and that Wal-Mart's refusal to cabin its managers' authority amounted to disparate treatment on the basis of gender. The plaintiffs sought to certify a nationwide class of 1.5 million female employees. The plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief, punitive damages, and backpay.

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