While the Supreme Court in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo dashed employers’ hopes that the Court would broadly preclude statistical evidence and severely limit wage and hour class actions in a fashion similar to its restriction of discrimination class actions in Wal-mart v. Dukes, the Court was also clear that this type of evidence will not be appropriate or probative in all wage and hour claims. In ruling for the class action claimants, the Court affirmed a $2.9 million jury award for overtime claims related to donning and doffing at an Iowa pork processing plant. In so ruling, the Supreme Court refused to adopt the position advanced by Tyson Foods and several of its amici that class actions cannot be resolved by reliance upon representative evidence or statistical samples. It also refused to embrace Tyson Food’s reading of Wal-mart v. Dukes as standing for the proposition that representative sample is an impermissible means of establishing class-wide liability. But the Court also made clear whether statistical evidence could be used for liability depends on the claims asserted and the particular evidence. While the decision is not unsurprising after oral arguments, it seems likely that employers will see an uptick in plaintiffs aggressively relying on “representative” statistical evidence in wage and hour collective and class cases. There are, however, several “lessons learned” based upon the majority’s decision.
Last Tuesday, a Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted partial class certification in a case where plaintiffs allege that the United States Census Bureau used arrest records to screen out job applicants, thereby transferring disparities in arrest and conviction rates for African-Americans and Latinos into the agency’s hiring practices and setting up hurdles to employment that disproportionately affected these groups in violation of Title VII. READ MORE
After suffering defeat in the United States Supreme Court, Plaintiffs in Dukes et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. returned to court in California in an attempt to certify a newly defined and smaller class of 150,000 current and former female employees. On August 2, 2013, Judge Charles R. Breyer of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification, which leaves each member of the proposed class to pursue her claims individually against Wal-Mart. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 3:10-CV-03005-CRB, Slip Op. at 2 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 2, 2013). READ MORE
The ongoing saga of the more than decade-old sex discrimination class action against Wal-Mart (Dukes v. Wal-Mart) will continue after the federal district court handling the case allowed plaintiffs’ fourth amended complaint to survive a motion to dismiss in a ruling on September 21, 2012. In June of last year, the Supreme Court rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to bring a nationwide class action against Wal-Mart, holding that the plaintiffs failed to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) because they could not show sufficient commonality between the almost 1.5 million members of the class and reversing class certification. In response, the plaintiffs filed a fourth amended complaint in district court, narrowing their proposed class to several hundred thousand female Wal-Mart employees in four regions of California. Wal-Mart subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the new complaint, arguing (among other things) that it suffered from the same commonality problems as the class rejected by the Supreme Court.
The district court handling the case rejected Wal-Mart’s argument, finding that the Supreme Court took issue with plaintiffs’ evidence, not necessarily their theories and that plaintiffs should therefore have the opportunity to present evidence to demonstrate commonality among the new class members at the class certification stage. In particular, the district court noted that plaintiffs’ new complaint alleged that they could provide class-wide proof of a “culture and philosophy of gender bias shared by the relevant decision-makers,” citing to allegedly gender-biased comments made at management training meetings. The district court found that this allegation allowed the complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, while noting that the plaintiffs “still must prove that every decision-maker in the group—perhaps four hundred or so…operated under a common policy or mode of decision-making” to obtain class certification. So, although the district court found that plaintiffs’ theories do not fail as a matter of law, whether or not they will actually be successful in a renewed attempt at class certification is a different question entirely. For now, we will all have to wait to find out if the nation’s once largest sex discrimination class action can survive under the Supreme Court’s latest class certification ruling.