Judge OKs Exec Deposition in Wal-Mart Gender Discrimination Case

February 16, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal judge in California hearing the massive gender discrimination case against giant retailer Wal-Mart has allowed plaintiffs' lawyers to depose a former executive.

U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California lifted his order temporarily blocking discovery to allow for the deposition of Thomas Coughlin III, who was second-in-command at Wal-Mart and vice-chairman of the board until he left the company in 2005 (See  Wal-Mart Explains Firing of Former Vice President ), according to a news report from The Recorder.

Jenkins was swayed by details of Coughlin’s failing health, which he said helped convince him that the deposition should move forward. “Should Mr. Coughlin become ill, incapacitated or – heaven forbid – die, the plaintiffs would have no opportunity to obtain testimony that is relevant and material,” Jenkins said, according to the news report. .

Lead plaintiffs’ lawyer Brad Seligman described the latest ruling as a significant step for his side. “For the first time since January 2003, we’re going to talk to somebody who was in a position of command at Wal-Mart for several years,” Seligman said following a hearing before Jenkins, the news report said.

Wal-Mart lawyers, however, argued that the discovery block should stay in place for now because they will be asking the 9 th US Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its recent ruling in the case. The defense lawyers vowed that they would take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary..

The appellate court upheld a Jenkins’ decision to certify the suit as a class action (See Court Approves Wal-Mart Discrimination Suit Class )  – allowing an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million current and former female Wal-Mart to participate. The plaintiffs are charging that the retailer systematically discriminates against women in pay and promotional opportunities.