AARP’s friend-of-the-court briefs ask the highest courts in Pennsylvania and California to reject efforts to narrow the evidentiary proof and claims offered by class action members and to preserve the class action device as a critical mechanism to enable the vindication of important legal rights.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court handed workers a stunning defeat when, in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, it denied a class action for 1.5 million current and former female employees of Wal-Mart. That ruling’s repercussions under various federal and state antidiscrimination laws, as well as other civil and consumer rights laws, is still being felt. The Court’s criticism of “trial by formula” is at the forefront of state law cases in Pennsylvania and California.
Braun v. Wal-Mart, consolidated with Hummel v. Wal-Mart, concerns the use of aggregate proof in wage and hour class actions on behalf of 187,000 hourly workers who allege they were deprived of meal and rest breaks. The plaintiffs won a $187 million verdict in the trial court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will consider whether due process requires individualized proof of liability and damages with regard to each class member. Duran v. U.S. Bank is a class action involving claims by employees of US Bank that they were underpaid because the bank misclassified them as outside sales staff exempt from California’s overtime laws and were thus unlawfully denied overtime pay. The state court of appeal reversed a $14 million judgment for plaintiffs and decertified the class, holding that the trial court relied on improper proof of aggregate damages and deprived the bank of the opportunity to question absent class members concerning their claims.
AARP’s briefs, filed by attorneys with AARP Foundation Litigation in conjunction with attorneys from other organizations advocating for the rights of workers and minorities, explain that the U.S. Supreme Court’s reference to “trial by formula” in Dukes does not preclude the use of aggregate evidence in the enforcement of important rights. Instead, courts around the country make use of a variety of techniques to manage class-wide evidence without resorting to mini-trials of each class member’s claim and do so without violating due process rights of defendants.
What’s at Stake
The repercussions of the Duke decision continue to be felt and, as feared, are reverberating through not only federal causes of action, but even through state claims in states with far greater protections than workers and consumers enjoy under federal law. AARP had filed a brief in Dukes and will continue to work to see that its erosion of worker and consumer rights is minimized and turned back.
Braun v. Wal-Mart and Hummel v. Wal-Mart are before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which is the state’s highest court. Duran v. U.S. Bank is pending before the Supreme Court of California.