Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A small group of women who alleged discrimination on the basis of gender filed a suit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (D). The action was sought to be changed to a class action, with the certified class represented by the original small group of women who sued the company. This class was the largest ever class.

Facts of the case

“Betty Dukes, a Wal-Mart “”greeter”” at a Pittsburg, Calif., store, and five other women filed a class action lawsuit in which they alleged that the company’s nationwide policies resulted in lower pay for women than men in comparable positions and longer wait for management promotions than men. The certified class, which in 2001 was estimated to comprise more than 1.5 million women, includes all women employed by Wal-Mart nationwide at any time after December 26, 1998, making this the largest class action lawsuit in U.S. history. Wal-Mart has argued that the court should require employees to file on an individual basis, contending that class actions of this size – formed under Rule 23(b) of the federal rules of civil procedure — are inherently unmanageable and unduly costly. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has three times upheld the class certification.”

Question

(1) Can a class be made up of more than one million women under a single employer all over the U.S. be certified if they cannot prove the commonality of issue or fact as required under Federal Rules 23(a)(2), in that they are not able to show that all class members were subject to a uniform discriminatory employment policy?

Answer

“(Scalia, J.)(1) No. A class consisting of more than a million women employees of a single employer all over the U.S. cannot be certified as such if they fail to prove that all the members were subject to the same discrimination in respect to the employment policy, and so do not fulfill the criterion for commonality of fact or issue. The usual rule as concerns litigation is that it is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only. A class action is an exception, and it must be justified by the fact that a class representative must be part of the class in fact, interest and injury. This criterion is set forth in Rule 23 (a), under the four requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality and adequate representation. These requirements make sure the class is limited to those whose claims are identical with those of the named plaintiffs.&nbsp

  • In this case, the group argument that Wal-Mart practices discrimination according to a pattern should be taken as their attempt to prove commonality.”

    Conclusion

    The Supreme Court held that the employees’ class could not be certified because the action did not satisfy the commonality requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(2). The employees failed to offer significant proof that the employer operated under a general policy of discrimination. An expert who testified that the employer had a strong corporate culture that made it vulnerable to gender bias did not determine how often stereotypes played a meaningful role in employment decisions. The employees’ statistical and anecdotal evidence did not show that a common mode of exercising managerial discretion pervaded the entire company. In addition, the employees’ backpay claims were improperly certified under Rule 23(b)(2), which did not allow certification of monetary relief claims that were not incidental to injunctive or declaratory relief.

    • Case Brief: 2011
    • Petitioner: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
    • Respondent: Betty Dukes, et al.
    • Decided by: Roberts Court

    Citation: 564 US _ (2011)
    Granted Dec 6, 2010
    Argued: Mar 29, 2011
    Decided: Jun 20, 2011