High Court to Hear Giant Wal-Mart Class Action

December 6, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – U.S.Supreme Court justices on Monday agreed to hear the controversial class action gender bias suit against Wal-Mart involving 1.5 million women employees.

The high court isn’t likely to hear oral arguments on Wal-Mart’s appeal of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holding in the largest employment class action in the country’s history until mid-2011 (see Wal-Mart Takes Gender Bias Case to Supreme Court).  

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Betty Dukes, et al. (No 10-277) is being closely watched by a variety of business and legal groups because it is likely to establish new legal ground covering class-action employments suits; it has drawn nine friend-of-the-court briefs so far.

In particular, the justices will be considering whether it is proper to allow a large number of plaintiffs spread around the country to sue together under anti-discrimination laws for money damages. The 2001 Dukes case involves allegations the giant retailer was biased against women in salary and promotion opportunities.

Business groups have argued that court approval of a class action suit puts a great deal of pressure on a defendant because of the potential litigation expenses and a potentially sizable damages award, regardless of the merits of the underlying claims. Plaintiffs’ lawyers counter by arguing that class-action court procedures allow a company to be held to account for its actions and to pay a price for its alleged misdeeds.

Wal-Mart’s request for a Supreme Court hearing is here.