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Supreme Court Agrees to Review Massive Discrimination Case Against Wal-Mart

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review what has been called the largest employment class action in U.S. history — Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes. The class of plaintiffs is estimated to include approximately 1.5 million former and current female Wal-Mart employees seeking monetary relief that could amount to billions of dollars in back pay.

Betty Dukes, a Wal-Mart employee, initially filed the case in federal court on behalf of “certain named plaintiffs and those similarly situated.” The district court certified a class of female employees alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the certification. According to Wal-Mart’s petition to the Supreme Court, the nationwide class “includes every woman employed for any period of time over the past decade, in any of Wal-Mart’s approximately 3,400 separately managed stores, 41 regions, and 400 districts, and who held positions in any of approximately 53 departments and 170 different job classifications.”

Although the case involves alleged sex discrimination, the Court won’t be deciding whether the alleged discrimination occurred but instead will have to determine whether class-action treatment is appropriate. Wal-Mart argues that the class is too large for it to properly defend itself against and that the cases should be decided on an individual basis. Wal-Mart also noted in its petition that “if the Ninth Circuit decision in this case stands, virtually every employer in the land could be subject to a similar suit.”

Many analysts believe this may be the most important Supreme Court case to businesses this term and that the Court’s decision could have a huge impact on class-action lawsuits (including employment discrimination actions) as a whole. The Court is expected to hear this case in the spring, and we will continue to keep you updated on its status.

Learn more about employment laws prohibiting discrimination in the HR Guide to Employment Law