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2007-02-06
San Francisco, CA. Wal-Mart Loses Appeal in Gender Discrimination Class Action

The women of Wal-Mart will have their day in court. That was the upshot of the court ruling today that rocked the foundations in Bentonville, Arkansas. On June 21, 2001, Sprawl-Busters reported that six women had sued Wal-Mart, charging the company with systematically discriminating against hundreds of thousands of female "associates" in Wal-Mart and Sam's Clubs nationwide. The court case became widely known as Dukes V. Wal-Mart, after the lead defendant, Betty Dukes. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. Three years later, in June of 2004, the District Court judge ruled that the case could be certified as a class action lawsuit, and would cover all women workers at Wal-Mart from Christmas of 1998, to the present. As many as 1.6 million workers could be included in the class of plaintiffs in this case. In November of 2004, Wal-Mart appealed that decision to the 9th. Circuit Court in San Francisco. Arguments by both sides of the case were heard in court in August of 2005, and today, three judges from the 9th. Circuit Court knocked Wal-Mart back on its heels by upholding the lower court's ruling. The media called today's decision a "major setback" for the retailer -- on the same day that its stock had risen sharply. The Dukes case is likely to become the record-holder for the largest gender discrimination case in American history. In September of 1997, Home Depot settled a federal gender discrimination lawsuit that cost the 'home improvement' retailer a staggering $104 million. This case is far larger, and a lot costlier to consider. For that reason, Wal-Mart immediately announced that it would seek a second hearing before the 9th. Circuit, and would take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We will seek a rehearing of today's decision by a divided three-judge panel," Wal-Mart told The Morning News in Northwest Arkansas. The 9th. Circuit Court said today that the lower court had the discretion to decide that class action status made more sense than "clogging" the federal courts with thousands of individual suits about the same issues. "Although the size of this class action is large, mere size does not render a case unmanageable," the federal court wrote. Wal-Mart's effort to claim the size of the class was unwieldy for the company was rejected by the court. Wal-Mart also tried to argue that the rules of class action suits should not apply to them, because its 3,400 stores function as independent businesses, and that the company as a whole does not discriminating against women.Wal-Mart's lead attorney in the case told reporters today's ruling was "one step in what is going to be a long process. We are very optimistic about obtaining relief from this ruling as the case progresses." If Wal-Mart can't get the 3 judges who sat in today's decision to rehear the case, they also can ask for the full panel of 15 judges to hear it. The Impact Fund of California represents the women who filed the lawsuit. "What this shows is that no amount of PR or spin can avoid the day in court that is coming, and it's time for Wal-Mart to face the music," said the lead attorney for The Impact Fund. "We're confident that the women of Wal-Mart will have their day in court."

What you can do: It is very unlikely that this case will ever be tried in a courtroom on its merits. Wal-Mart and the plaintiffs have reportedly been in settlement discussions for many months, although neither side has confirmed that. Wal-Mart could wind up paying out billions if it loses the class-action lawsuit. For earlier stories on this six year case, search Newsflash by "Dukes."










 
 
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