In a highly anticipated decision involving class actions of employment discrimination claims, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, that class certification of approximately 1.5 million plaintiffs was inappropriate. The plaintiffs, current and former female employees of Wal-Mart, brought a class action alleging that the company discriminated against them on the basis of their gender by denying them equal pay or promotions. In particular, the plaintiffs alleged that discrimination was common to all of Wal-Mart's female employees nationwide as part of a "corporate culture," even though Wal-Mart's policies prohibited discrimination and local managers had discretion to make many decisions on their own.
The Court, reversing class certification, held that the plaintiffs failed to show convincing proof that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination. The Court concluded that the plaintiffs could not establish the existence of any common question since there was nothing to unite the 1.5 million claims. The Court also held, in the context of this case, that claims for back pay were improperly certified and, rather, required individualized assessments.
This decision represents a significant victory for employers who may face class claims and ensures that class plaintiffs must demonstrate more than merely suffering a violation of the same provision of law in order to gain certification.