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Remembering Betty Dukes, Lead Plaintiff in Gender-Bias Class Action Against Walmart

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff in the Dukes v. Walmart class action case filed back in 2001, died this month at the age of 67. While the cause has not been announced, Ms. Dukes will be remembered as a fighter. As a result of her devotion to fighting for equal rights, she became known more than just locally, where she lived in Antioch, California. In fact, class action lawyers likely won't forget her name for years to come.

Dukes had a reputation for helping people. Whether it was feeding the hungry, or standing up for equal rights, she was determined to make a difference.

Dukes v. Walmart was closely watched by lawyers across the country. If SCOTUS had let it proceed, it had the potential to be among the largest employment class action cases in history. Ms. Dukes sought to represent 1.5 million female employees. She alleged discriminatory employment practices, including failure to pay and promote women equally to men.

While SCOTUS's decision never reached the merits of her case, the decision has left a minefield of dicta and precedent for class action litigators to navigate. It is not unlikely that the Dukes case will be cited for generations to come.

Duke of All Trades

Betty Duke was much more than just a Walmart greeter, though she remained employed at Walmart during her decade-long case, and only stopped working there last year. Interestingly, she was an ordained Baptist minister, a community organizer, and a volunteer. She moved from Louisiana to California in the 1950s with her mother, who was in search of work. In 1994, Ms. Duke took a job at Walmart making $5 per hour.

Though she did marry, she never had children. However, her five siblings and their children remember her fondly, and have been providing the media with rather heartfelt statements of remembrance since Ms. Dukes passing on July 10.

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