Monday, June 5, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Women Can’t Block Wal-Mart Bias Settlement

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge on Monday squashed an attempt by female workers to block Wal-Mart from ending 15 years of litigation over claims of its entrenched practice of gender bias.

Lead plaintiff Betty Dukes sued Wal-Mart in 2001, claiming the nation's largest retailer paid female employees less than men and refused to promote them.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2011, where the high court disbanded a class of 1.5 million women in finding that they lacked commonality to sue their employer.

Two years later, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer refused to certify a smaller class of female employees in California, mostly relying on the Supreme Court's 2011 ruling.

Last month, a group of six women filed a motion to intervene to stop five named plaintiffs, including Dukes, from ending their 15-year legal battle by settling their claims with the Arkansas-based retail giant.

In their proposed complaint in intervention, the six female workers claimed 65 to 87 percent of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in three corporate regions in and around California paid women less than similarly situated men.

By not litigating the case through final judgment, the six former workers say the named plaintiffs would deny them and other potential class members the chance to challenge Breyer's 2013 denial of class certification.

In an Aug. 15 ruling, Breyer declared that he no longer has the power to grant the six women's motion to intervene.

"The court immediately lost its jurisdiction over the matter once the plaintiffs and Wal-Mart voluntarily dismissed the case," Breyer wrote in his 5-page ruling.

Even though the six women filed their motion to intervene one day before the named plaintiffs and Wal-Mart alerted the court of their intention to dismiss the case, that voluntary dismissal immediately nullified the motion to intervene, Breyer said.

A stipulated dismissal strips the court of its jurisdiction to hear motions to intervene — even motions filed before the dismissal, the judge wrote.

The proposed interveners argued that the judge has a duty to consider the rights of putative class members and whether the named plaintiffs have adequately represented their interests.

However, Breyer found that because class certification was already denied, "there were no potential class members to whom plaintiffs owed a fiduciary duty."

Attorneys for Dukes and the proposed interveners did not return phone calls seeking comment on the judge's ruling and pending dismissal Tuesday morning.

A spokesman for Wal-Mart said the company has had a "strong policy against discrimination" in place for many years, and that the retail chain "continues to be a great place for women to work and advance."

"Thousands of women have had positive experiences that don't match the claims of the interveners," Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said.

The spokesman added that the company is pleased with Judge Breyer's ruling, which he said supports what the retail chain had argued — that the dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims ended this litigation.

The judge is expected to grant Dukes' and Wal-Mart's motion to voluntarily dismiss the case per the conditions of a confidential settlement agreement after a status conference scheduled for this Friday, Aug. 19.

Attorneys for the named plaintiffs include Jennifer Reisch, legal director for Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco. The would-be interveners are represented by Randy Renick of Hadsell, Stormer and Renick in Pasadena, California.

Catherine Conway of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher in Los Angeles represents Wal-Mart in the action.

Categories: Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.