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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes

U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Proposed Limits on Class Actions in Bias Suits

The Court is considering whether a previously approved "class" of 1.5 million current and former female employees of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. can proceed together with their sex discrimination lawsuit against the world's largest private employer. AARP and eight civil rights organizations filed a brief supporting the women plaintiffs because of the potential effect of the Court's decision on all discrimination cases, including those based on age and disability, as well as on other major lawsuits brought by AARP attorneys to protect the rights of older persons.

Background

In this largest sex discrimination suit in history, the plaintiffs allege that women employed in Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in comparable positions, despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority, and receive fewer — and wait longer for — promotions to store manager positions than men. The lawsuit alleges conditions hostile to women at Wal-Mart, i.e., a longstanding company culture of favoring men over women. According to claims in the lawsuit, discrimination keeps women from top roles — at the time of filing, women allegedly made up over 70% of Wal-Mart's sales workforce, but fewer than 10% of store managers, fewer than one-third of management overall, and only 5% — one of 20 — of Wal-Mart's top executives.

The "class" of plaintiffs includes women in a range of Wal-Mart positions, from part-time, entry-level, hourly employees to salaried managers. An appeals court found that the rigorous legal requirements for a class action were satisfied because of evidence of company-wide policies and practices, producing fewer opportunities for women: uniform personnel and management structure across stores; headquarters oversight of store operations; company-wide pay and promotion; a strong centralized corporate culture; consistent gender-related disparities in every region of the U.S.; and gender stereotyping. Wal-Mart appealed, demanding all 1.5 million plaintiffs pursue relief separately.

What's at Stake

AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys filed AARP's "friend of the court" brief because this case could affect older workers' age and disability employment discrimination cases as well as healthcare and consumer protection suits AARP attorneys handle. AARP argues that class actions play a vital role in enforcing civil rights, consumer and healthcare laws, and often provide the only real mechanism for victims to challenge widespread illegal practices. Congress has repeatedly approved the rights of older persons and others to bring suits as a class.

AARP's brief urges the Court generally not to undermine the class action device for vindicating important rights, and specifically to resist arguments by Wal-Mart and various employer groups to radically revise the kinds of relief victims may seek as a class. These advocates have called for the Court to severely limit circumstances in which a class of plaintiffs can seek either backpay or other compensation for discrimination or "injunctive relief" forbidding employers from continuing practices courts have found to be discriminatory.

Status of the Case

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes is awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

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