Group Welcomes Class-Action Gender Bias Suit Against Wal-Mart

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - An anti-Wal-Mart group is applauding an appeals court panel's 2-1 decision to approve class action status for a sexual discrimination case against the retail giant. But the dissenting judge on the panel said the evidence in the case was weak.

Dukes v. Wal-Mart is considered the largest ever group suit for gender discrimination. The suit claims the retail chain paid women less than their male counterparts and discriminated against them in promotions.

"Today's decision by the court is a huge victory not only for the women who work at Wal-Mart, but for all Americans who care about equal rights and a discrimination-free workplace," said WakeUpWalMart campaign director Paul Blank.

"With over 57 wage and hour lawsuits, it appears more obvious every day that Wal-Mart suffers from a systemic pattern of ignoring labor laws which has resulted in the mistreatment and exploitation of its employees," he said in a statement.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the decision does not reflect its position on the gender discrimination claims. Rather, it affirms a lower court ruling classifying the case as a class-action lawsuit.

"We hold that the district court acted within its broad discretion in concluding that it would be better to handle this case as a class action instead of clogging the federal courts with innumerable individual suits litigating the same issues repeatedly," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the majority.

"Although the size of this class action is large, mere size does not render the case unmanageable," he added.

Wal-Mart said it does not discriminate against female employees and called for the class-action status to be dismissed, saying the retail chain gives its stores wide latitude in management decisions.

Judge Andrew Kleinfeld, who dissented in the case, said the lawsuit should not be certified to class-action status and argued that the evidence in the case is flimsy.

"This case poses a considerable risk of enriching undeserving class members and counsel, but depriving thousands of women actually injured by sex discrimination of their just due," Kleinfeld wrote. "Plaintiffs' only evidence of sex discrimination is that around 2/3 of Wal-Mart employees are female, but only about 1/3 of its managers are female.

"Not everybody wants to be a Wal-Mart manager," he added. "Those women who want to be managers may find better opportunities elsewhere."

Kleinfeld's opinion on the case did not sway WakeUpWalmart, which called for the retail chain to "do the right thing for its employees" and "take responsibility for its actions."

Wal-Mart has the option of asking for a larger panel of the appeals court to reconsider the decision, or it could appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

See Earlier Stories:
Anti-Wal-Mart Group Asks, What Would Jesus Do? (Dec. 14, 2006)
Wal-Mart Agrees to Pay Workers $33 Million in Back Wages (Jan. 26, 2007)

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