Supreme Court Limits Class Actions in Wal-Mart Victory

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Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in favor of Wal-Mart restricts the ability of plaintiffs to seek certification of a class for damages.

On June 20, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its highly-anticipated ruling in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Duke. The Court unanimously held that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals erred in affirming the certification of the class under Rule(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A 5-4 majority further held that the plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of establishing commonality under Rule 23(a)(2).

The majority held that Rule 23(a)(2) requires a party seeking certification of a class to demonstrate more than the mere existence of common questions; rather, the party seeking certification must demonstrate that class-wide proceedings will generate common answers to those questions. The Court ruled that the plaintiffs failed to come forward with “significant proof” that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination. The Court concluded that evidence that Wal-Mart’s policy of discretion produced an overall sex-based disparity was insufficient. Because there was “no convincing proof of a company wide discriminatory pay and promotion policy,” the plaintiffs failed to establish the existence of any common question.

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