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9th Circuit will rehear massive Wal-Mart class-action sex discrimination case

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A federal appeals court has agreed to reconsider whether an enormous sex discrimination lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart will proceed as a class-action case. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that it would rehear a 2007 ruling by a three-member panel of the same court, which upheld a district court’s decision to certify the case as a class action.

Recent case: The litigation began back in 2001 when Betty Dukes, a 54-year-old Wal-Mart employee from California, filed a sexual discrimination claim against the retail chain. She accused Wal-Mart of sex bias when she was denied the training needed to obtain a higher-paying job.

The case subsequently grew to include 2 million female current and former Wal-Mart employees. Lawyers say that makes it among the largest class-action sexual discrimination cases in the country. The full 9th Circuit Court will now revisit the case. (Dukes v. Wal-Mart, No. 04-16688, 9th Cir., 2009)

Final note: This is a California case to watch. Knocking out class-action status would mean a much smaller and more manageable case. That could be good news for other large employers if it signals a turning of the tide away from class-action litigation and toward individual employees having to prove that they alone were harmed by discrimination. The financial stakes would be far lower, too. Even a small award multiplied out over thousands of employees in a class has the potential to bankrupt a company.

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