As reported earlier this year in EmployNews, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to certify the largest class action employment claim in U.S. history. The case involves claims of gender discrimination against Wal-Mart, alleging that female employees were paid less than males, and were provided with fewer opportunities for promotion. The plaintiffs allege that these claim could involve up to 1.6 million current and former Wal-Mart employees.
Wal-Mart fought class certification, arguing that pay and promotion decisions were made on a local or regional basis, and therefore there is no commonality of circumstances required for class certification. The Supreme Court will review whether the claim is appropriate for class certification, and may issue important guidance with regard to the maximum size and scope of class action litigation in general.
A decision against Wal-Mart could prompt more aggressive and broader class action claims by plaintiffs' lawyers. Faced with expensive and onerous discovery, and the potentially ruinous impact of an adverse verdict, many companies would feel compelled to settle rather than proceed with litigation once a class action claim of this scope is certified.
The case will be argued before the Supreme Court early next year, with a possible decision by June.