US Court Strikes Blow to Wal-Mart in Sex Bias Suit

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Reuters

US Court Strikes Blow to Wal-Mart in Sex Bias Suit

by
Alexandria Sage

The lawsuit argues that female workers were paid less and received fewer promotions at Wal-Mart than male counterparts, and that the retailer's corporate structure fostered this gender discrimination.

SAN FRANCISCO - In a major blow to
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, a sex-discrimination lawsuit
against the retailer can proceed as a class-action case
covering more than 1 million female employees, a U.S. court
ruled on Monday.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, had asked the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to undo class-action
certification in what could be the largest sexual
discrimination lawsuit in the nation's history.

The lawsuit argues that female workers were paid less and
received fewer promotions at Wal-Mart than male counterparts,
and that the retailer's corporate structure fostered this
gender discrimination.

"It's good day," said Brad Seligman, an attorney for the
plaintiffs. "We've been in the Ninth Circuit for five years.
It's been long awaited."

Wal-Mart was not immediately available for a comment.

Paul Secunda, an associate professor of law at Marquette
University Law School, called the ruling "a huge win for the
plaintiffs, and a tremendous loss for Wal-Mart."

"Wal-Mart has potentially huge liability," he said. Given
the number of employees involved and many years of pay at issue
"the amount of liability can be many billions of dollars."

The class action will now cover the claims made by women
who have worked at Wal-Mart since June 2001, when the
lawsuit was filed.

Class-action lawsuits generally make it easier for groups
of plaintiffs to sue well-heeled corporations and have led to
large payouts by tobacco makers, and oil and food companies in
the United States.

Wal-Mart had argued that it would be too unwieldy to bring
the case forward as a class action -- a premise the appeals
court dismissed.

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"Although the size of this class action is large, mere size
does not render a case unmanageable," the court wrote.

Seligman called Wal-Mart's argument "a version of too big
to fail."

"Other than its size, which is huge, the issues in this
case are not remarkable," Seligman said. "This is a garden
variety, old-school discrimination case. If this was a class of
500 people, no one would be saying anything."

The court said on Monday that it agreed with a lower
court's ruling that female workers can bring claims for
injunctive and declaratory relief and back pay through a class-
action lawsuit.

It ruled that the district court should consider whether to
certify the class for claims of punitive damages. It also sent
back to the lower court claims of potential plaintiffs who no
longer worked for Wal-Mart when the complaint was filed in
1998.

Seligman said those members made up roughly 20 percent of
the class.

The suit originated with Wal-Mart worker Betty Dukes who
sued for sexual discrimination in 2001 with six other
plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit that extended the case to
all women who had worked at the company since 1998.

A trial judge certified the case as a class-action in
2004.

The plaintiffs had been seeking an undetermined amount in
lost pay and punitive damages, together with injunctive and
declaratory relief, which would require Wal-Mart to rectify the
pay and promotion inequities.

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