Wal-Mart Workers in California Denied Class Action Status in Gender Bias Case

By | August 6, 2013

Women workers at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in California suing for gender discrimination can’t pursue their claims against the retailer as a group because the evidence didn’t show they had enough in common, a judge said.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco said the women’s request for class certification suffered from the same deficiencies as an earlier version of the case brought on behalf of a national group of more than 1 million women. That case was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.

“To show a common question underlying their disparate treatment claims, plaintiffs must provide ‘significant proof that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination,'” Breyer said in his ruling last week. “They have not amassed sufficient anecdotal evidence of bias and stereotyped thinking among management to establish significant proof of a general policy of discrimination within any management group.”

The sex-bias case was originally filed in San Francisco in 2001 by women at a handful of Wal-Mart stores claiming they were denied pay and promotions. It was certified as a class action covering more than 1 million employees after lawyers for the workers convinced a judge that Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart’s employment policies meant women at hundreds of stores across the U.S. were subject to similar treatment.

Texas Dismissal

After the Supreme Court rejected the nationwide group, lawyers re-filed cases representing groups of women in different states. In October, Wal-Mart won dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to represent female workers in Texas.

While the women compiled substantial evidence of discrimination at Wal-Mart stores, that wasn’t enough to overcome the Supreme Court’s instruction when it rejected the nationwide class, Breyer said.

“Rather than identify an employment practice and define a class around it, plaintiffs continue to challenge the discretionary decisions of hundreds of decision makers, while arbitrarily confining their proposed class to corporate regions that include stores in California, among other states,” he said.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said in an e-mailed statement that the plaintiffs’ claims are “unsuitable” to be treated as a class action because of the differing situations of each individual.

‘Great Place’

The ruling “rejects the attempt of a few associates to turn their individual complaints into a sweeping and unwarranted class action,” according to the statement. Wal-Mart is a “great place for women to work and advance” and the allegations of the five plaintiffs in this case “are not representative of the positive experiences that hundreds of thousands of women have had working at Wal-Mart,” the company said.

Jocelyn Larkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the ruling.

The California case is Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 01- cv-02252, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco). The Supreme Court case is Wal-Mart v. Dukes, 10-00277, U.S. Supreme Court (Washington).

With assistance from Joel Rosenblatt in San Francisco. Editors: Andrew Dunn, Charles Carter

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