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9th Cir. Overturned by SCOTUS in Walmart Class Action Lawsuit

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion granting class certification to the women in the Walmart gender discrimination lawsuit. Monday's decision has been hailed as a huge victory for the retail giant and for employers everywhere.

In 2004, a U.S. Federal District Court within the 9th Circuit certified the case to proceed as a class action lawsuit. The district court lawsuit alleged that Walmart discriminated against women in the way the retail giant recruited and promoted managers. The district court case was sent to appeal on the issue of class certification prior to final judgment on the discrimination issue.

At the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the case was certified again as a class action lawsuit. The Ninth Circuit Court applied the standards under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 23, citing that the plaintiffs had met the requirements:

  • The class was so numerous that the joinder of all members was impracticable,
  • There were questions of law or fact in common to the class,
  • The claims or defenses of the representative parties,
  • The representative parties would fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

At the Supreme Court level, however, the majority of Justices disagreed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Justice Scalia wrote, in the opinion, that the requisite element of commonality had not been met and that there needed to be “some glue” holding the many parties’ allegations together. With such different claims arising from thousands of different lawsuits against managers across the nation, this element would be difficult to meet.

A statement was issued by Gisel Ruiz, an Executive Vice President of Walmart on the decision:

“Walmart has a long history of providing advancement opportunities for our female associates and will continue its efforts to build a robust pipeline of future female leaders.”

While the class certification has been blocked, the individual plaintiffs are still free to sue on the gender discrimination issue. So while Walmart has been spared a potential billion dollar gender discrimination lawsuit, it may still be facing many smaller suits.

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