Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes

Following is the case brief for Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011)

Case Summary of Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes:

  • Several employees of Wal-Mart sued the company on behalf of the 1.5 million women employees, claiming gender discrimination
  • The District Court certified the class and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court reversed.  It found that it was not possible to find commonality among the entire class of 1.5 million women employees, because there was no proof showing that all of the Wal-Mart managers throughout the huge corporation used their pay and promotion discretion in the same discriminatory way.

Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Current and former employees of Wal-Mart sued the company for injunctive relief, declaratory relief, punitive damages, and backpay.  They claimed that the company discriminates against employees on the basis of gender.  Specifically, they claim that local managers are given discretion over pay and promotions, and the managers exercise that discretion in favor of men.

The Respondent employees sued on behalf of 1.5 million current and former Wal-Mart employees as a class, making it the largest class action of all time.

Procedural History:

  • The District Court certified the class under Civil Procedure Rule 23.
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, noting that the employees met the “commonality” requirement, and that their backpay (monetary) claims did not predominate over their declaratory and injunctive relief claims.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Can several employees act on behalf of a class of women employees numbering over one million people?  No.

Judgment:

The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Members of a class action must share a common question of law or fact to be certified under Rule 23(a), and monetary claims are not eligible for class certification under Rule 23(b)(2).

Reasoning:

Rule 23(a) requires that a party seeking class certification must prove that the class has common questions of law or fact.  Here, the class members lack commonality because there is no showing that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination.  Rather, the class members are trying to attack a million disparate employment decisions, by managers throughout the massive company, all at once.  From the fact that the company gives managers discretion in pay and promotions, it does not necessarily follow that all of the managers in this nationwide company exercised that discretion in the same way.

Further, the backpay claims were improperly certified.  When the monetary relief is not incidental to the other forms of relief and the claims for individualized relief (like backpay) are excluded from Rule 23(b)(2), it follows that the backpay claims should not be certified in this case.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring in part, Dissenting in part (Ginsburg):

While the class should not have been certified under Rule 23(b)(2), the case should be remanded to determine whether the class can be certified under Rule 23(b)(3).  A class under (b)(3) might be possible if the common class questions predominate over other individual issues, and that a class action is better than other ways to adjudicate the case.

Significance:

Wal-Mart v. Dukes is important because it was a unanimous decision that the variability of the individual plaintiffs’ circumstances lack commonality.  Yet, it was only 5-4 on the question of whether a class action here was not possible at all.  In practical terms, this case made it much more difficult for litigants to be certified as a class.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion

Listen to the Oral Arguments

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