Supreme Court rules in Walmart v. Dukes

May 13, 2011
in Employment Law

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the pay discrimination lawsuit everyone is watching.

The High Court on Dec. 6 agreed to hear Walmart’s appeal of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that allowed a class-action suit alleging widespread discrimination against women to proceed.

At stake: potentially $1 billion or more if the case goes forward and a court decides the company illegally discriminated against female employees.

The class of potential plaintiffs includes more than 1.5 million past and current female Walmart employees. It is the largest pay-bias class action ever.

The plaintiffs in the case—Dukes v. Wal-Mart—say lack of training and promotion opportunities means women who work at Walmart earn 5% to 15% less than male employees.

The issue in Walmart’s appeal isn’t whether the company discriminated, but whether such a large group can band together in a class action.

The Supreme Court will hear the case in the spring, with a ruling likely in June.

The retail giant is hoping the Supreme Court can break a zero-for-three record in Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Before the 9th Circuit ruling, Walmart had already failed twice in attempts to have the class decertified, once at the district court level and once before a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit.

Why this case is important: If the Supreme Court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor, look for more supersized class-action lawsuits. Remember: While a lawsuit from one employee may cost you a few thousand dollars, a class-action suit on behalf of many employees could result in damages worth millions … or more.

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