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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes

Citation. 564 338 (2011)

Brief Fact Summary.

Current and former female employees sue Defendant Wal-Mart for sex discrimiation and attempt to be certified as a class which Wal-Mart challenges.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Class certification under FRCP 23(a) is improper if there is no common injury that may be resolved across an entire class.

Facts.

Plaintiff Dukes acted as the class representative for about 1.5 million current and former employees of Defendant Wal-Mart for alleged violation of discrimination against female employees in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiffs did not allege a violation of a specific corporate policy but that Wal-Mart managers exercised their discretion over pay and promotions in a way that disproportionately benefited the male employees. Plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief in addition to back pay. The district court approved class certification, Defendant Wal-Mart appealed and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court then granted certiorari.

Issue.

Under FRCP 23(a), is class certification improper if there is no common injury that may be resolved across the entire class?

Held.

Yes, under FRCP 23(a) class certification is improper if there is no common injury that may be resolved across the entire class.

Dissent.

Justice Justice Ginsburg with Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan join concurring in part and dissenting in part

Agrees that the majority’s finding that the claims were improperly certified under FRCP 23(b)(2), but disagrees that Plaintiffs have not met the commonality threshold required by FRCP 23(a). One common issue is sufficient to certify the class under FRCP 23. The common issue here is whether Wal-Mart’s discretionary pay and promotion policies are discriminatory against women. The court focuses too much on the differences between the class members which is inappropriate for FRCP(a) analysis and is better suited when considering FRCP 23(b)(3).

Discussion.

  1. Here the court certified the class under FRCP 23(a) and approved certification for the plaintiffs’ back pay claims under FRCP(b)(2).
  2. Under FRCP 23(a)(2) plaintiffs must show that there are questions of law or fact common to the entire class.
  3. Commonality requires all plaintiffs to show that all class members suffered the same injury.
  4. It is not enough to allege that all proposed members suffered a violation under the same statute.
  5. General Telephone Company of the Southwest v. Falcon held that the court must probe beyond the pleadings and that class certification is proper only if the court’s rigorous analysis reveals that FRCP 23(a)’s requirements are met.
  6. Under FRCP(b)(2), claims for monetary relief must be incidental to injunctive or declaratory relief.
  7. FRCP(b)(2) is satisfied only if a single injunction or declaratory relief will provide relief to all class members.
  8. FRCP(b)(2) does not apply if each class member would be entitled to individualized award of monetary damages and the class should instead be brought under FRCP(b)(3) because it has more procedural protections.
  9. While the discrimnation was allegedly faced by all female employees of Wal-Mart, there is no significant proof that Wal-Mart operated under such discrimination policy.
  10. Defendant Wal-Mart actually has an explicit policy that forbids workplace discrimination.
  11. Therefore the lower court improperly certified the class under FRCP 23(a).
  12. The lower court also improperly certified the plaintiffs’ claims for back pay under FRCP 23(b)(2).
  13. Plaintiffs’ contention that their back pay claims do not “predominate” over their claims for injunctive and declaratory relief is rejected because this argument cannot be sustained by FRCP 23(b)(2)’s text.
  14. The judgement of the court of appeals is reversed.

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