Sex Discrimination Lawsuit against Wal-Mart Allowed to be a Class Action

The world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is squarely in the crosshairs of a sex discrimination class action lawsuit that may have far reaching implications on sex-based bias in the workplace. On April 26, 2010, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that the lawsuit against the retail giant may proceed as a class action. Originally filed in 2001 by six female employees, the suit alleges that Wal-Mart systematically discriminated against female employees by denying promotions, paying women less than men and giving women smaller raises.

Prior Sex Discrimination Suits

Wal-Mart has settled scores of sex-discrimination lawsuits in recent years. It recently settled a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) where the Commission alleged that Wal-Mart denied jobs to female applicants at its London, Kentucky distribution center from 1998 to 2005. However, in the present case, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the Plaintiffs sought to certify a much larger class of potential plaintiffs: women who may have worked at any Wal-Mart store in the United States after December 26, 1998. This prospective class would include hourly and salaried workers in 3,400 locations who may have been subject to Wal-Mart's allegedly discriminatory policies regarding equal pay and promotions.

Wal-Mart's Appeal

In June 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an 84-page order granting class certification for Plaintiffs' equal pay claim and all relief requested (including back pay, punitive damages, injunctive and declaratory relief). It also certified Plaintiffs' promotion claim, but did not allow the proposed class to seek damages for back pay. Wal-Mart contended that the trial court incorrectly certified the class based on the evidence presented. The Plaintiffs also asked the Court of Appeals to reconsider the trial court's ruling on back pay pertaining to its promotion claim.

In February 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of the Plaintiffs. Wal-Mart requested a rehearing before the full Ninth Circuit. After rehearing the appeal in March, an en banc panel held that the trial court properly certified the class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It reasoned that the court followed the precedent set forth in General Telephone Company of the Southwest v. Falcon, and that it correctly considered the evidence supporting each part of the Rule 23 test.

Now certified as a class action, the suit may include as many as one million women and potentially cost Wal-Mart billions in money damages. Wal-Mart may still petition the United States Supreme Court to challenge the Ninth Circuit's decision and halt the class action.

If you or someone you love has experienced discrimination in the workplace, contact an experienced employment attorney. A lawyer experienced in employment law can help you both understand your options and receive the compensation you deserve.