Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., was originally filed in 2001 on behalf of a class of an estimated 1.5 million women affected by Wal-Mart’s discriminatory employment practices, making it one of the largest civil rights class action lawsuits in history. The women assert that pay and promotion policies at Wal-Mart systematically disadvantage female employees. For example, evidence shows that Wal-Mart’s female employees are paid less than male employees in virtually every job category in every one of Wal-Mart’s 41 regions, despite the fact that female employees on average have greater seniority and higher performance scores.
Wal-Mart wants to make it more difficult for the women impacted by the allegedly discriminatory policies to become a part of the class that is suing it. For example, the corporation seeks a ruling declaring that victims of employment discrimination can only sue as a class if they give up their right to monetary damages. This means Wal-Mart would have to change its discriminatory policies, but not compensate the employees that it is alleged to have already discriminated against.
A federal district court certified the lawsuit as a class action in 2004. The case was then heard by both a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit in 2007, and a second group of eleven Ninth Circuit judges in April 2009. Both courts supported the district court’s decision to certify the class. Wal-Mart then asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the case, which it agreed to do in December 2010.