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ABA Journal

Corporate Giant Wal-Mart Faces a Huge Class Action by Female Workers

Posted Mar 25, 2011 6:17 PM CDT
By Mark Walsh

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By many measures, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has been an American corporate success story. Founded in 1962 in Arkansas by Sam Walton, the company became the nation's top retailer by revenue in the 1980s, the largest U.S. private employer by 1997, and found itself at the top of the Fortune 500 in 2010.

But the discount retailer has long faced scrutiny over its employment practices, including lawsuits on its overtime practices and about allegedly making employees work through lunch and bathroom breaks. The company has settled many of those suits.

In 2001, six female employees filed a lawsuit alleging sex discrimination in Wal-Mart's pay and promotion policies in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The suit sought class certification on behalf of all women employed in domestic Wal-Mart stores since Dec. 26, 1998, who may have been subject to the challenged policies.

DISPARITIES CLAIMED

The suit alleges that many women at Wal-Mart are paid less than men in comparable positions despite greater seniority and higher performance ratings, and that women receive fewer promotions to in-store management positions than men.

In 2004, a federal district court fully certified the class for claims for injunctive relief and back pay, but it limited the promotions class to those women with objective evidence confirming their interest in promotion. Last April, an en banc panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, largely affirmed the class certification.

On March 29, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes. The case takes up one question the retailer appealed: Whether claims for monetary relief can be certified in a section of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that deals chiefly with injunctive relief under class actions. And the justices added their own question about whether the certified Wal-Mart class meets the federal rules' basic prerequisites for certifying class actions.

Click here to read the rest of "Size Matters" from the March issue of the ABA Journal.

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