Wal-Mart Gender Discrimination Case Can Move Forward

April 26, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A federal judge in California did a perfectly acceptable job in certifying as a class action a gender discrimination case against Wal-Mart, a U.S. appellate court has concluded in clearing the way for the case to move forward.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that U.S. District Judge Martin J. Jenkins of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California followed the applicable court rules and case law in concluding that a group of women alleging Wal-Mart discriminated against female employees had marshaled enough evidence to bolster their allegations against the giant retailer. The case could turn out to represent the largest class-action suit in U.S. history, Reuters asserted in a news account about the 9th Circuit ruling.

Circuit Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, writing for the appellate court, said Jenkins had, among other things, properly decided the issue of whether there were too many plaintiffs for the case to be tried separately and whether there were enough issues common to all plaintiffs to make a class action case manageable. Jenkins had certified a class made up of all women employed by Wal-Mart at any time after December 26, 1998, and encompassing all claims for injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and back pay.

Plaintiffs allege that women employed in Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men incomparable positions, despite having higher performance ratings and greater seniority, and receive fewer—and wait longer for—promotions to in-store management positions than men.  The suit alleges Wal-Mart’s strong, centralized structure fosters or facilitates gender stereotyping and discrimination, that the policies and practices underlying this discriminatory treatment are consistent throughout Wal-Mart stores, and that this discrimination is common to all women who work or have worked in Wal-Mart stores.

“Plaintiffs have exceeded the permissive and minimal burden of establishing commonality by providing: significant evidence of company-wide corporate practices and policies, which include excessive subjectivity in personnel decisions, gender stereotyping, and maintenance of a strong corporate culture; statistical evidence of gender disparities caused by discrimination; and anecdotal evidence of gender bias,” Hawkins wrote. “Together, this evidence raises an inference that Wal-Mart engages in discriminatory practices in compensation and promotion that affect all plaintiffs in a common manner.”

The 9th Circuit ruling is at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2010/04/26/04-16688.pdf.