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SCOTUS rules on Wal-Mart class-certification case

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With a ruling from the nation’s highest court, an Indianapolis federal judge and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals learned they were correct in how they decided a sex-bias suit involving Rolls Royce.

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision Monday in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, et al., No. 10-277, reversing a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed as many as 1.6 million female employees to join together in what would be the nation’s largest class-action lawsuit. Plaintiffs alleged Wal-Mart's habit of giving managers discretion to make pay and promotion decisions was a discriminatory policy that resulted in men earning more money than their female counterparts and holding a disproportionate number of leadership positions.

Specifically at issue in the nationwide class-action suit was whether claims of monetary relief can be certified under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 23(b)(2), which is designed for cases primarily seeking injunctive or declaratory relief and offers slightly more relaxed requirements in proving class status than what’s required in monetary relief requests.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that the class was not properly certified under Rule 23(b)(2), and that the plaintiffs should have used Rule 23(b)(3) for its requests for monetary relief. The court held that claims for monetary relief can’t be certified under Rule 23(b)(2), at least where the money requested is not incidental to the requested injunctive or declaratory relief, but justices stopped short of creating any blanket answer about whether that could ever happen.

“Respondents nonetheless argue that their back pay claims were appropriately certified under Rule 23(b)(2) because those claims do not ‘predominate’ over their injunctive and declaratory relief requests,” the syllabus states. “That interpretation has no basis in the Rule’s text and does obvious violence to the Rule’s structural features.”

If the court had agreed with the female employees’ arguments, it wrote that District courts would have to continuously re-evaluate class membership rosters to excise those who leave their employment and become ineligible for relief from the class-action suit.

That issue ties in with a case from Indianapolis that Judge Sarah Evans Barker had decided, Sally A. Randall, et al. v. Rolls-Royce Corp., No. 10-3446, and the 7th Circuit affirmed earlier this year. Both courts addressed a similar issue raised in Wal-Mart, and this national ruling upholds what the outcome was in Rolls-Royce and sets the stage for future class-action lawsuits involving both monetary and injunctive relief.

“Respondents wish to sue for millions of employment decisions at once,” Justice Scalia wrote. “Without some glue holding together the alleged reasons for those decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination question.”

But the four more liberal members of the court wrote they’d give more weight to the plaintiffs' evidence of widespread discrimination, which included a statistical analysis of Wal-Mart's employee ranks as well as the experiences of female workers who testified to a culture of discrimination.

In a partial dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the plaintiffs had met their burden of alleging a question common to the proposed class, namely whether Wal-Mart’s discretionary pay and promotion policies are discriminatory.

“Managers, like all humankind, may be prey to biases of which they are unaware,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “The risk of discrimination is heightened when those managers are predominantly of one sex, and are steeped in a corporate culture that perpetuates gender stereotypes.”
 

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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