Category: Class Actions
The Supreme Court recently issued its long-awaited decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes (opinion), the largest class action discrimination suit in history. The bottom line is that the Court unanimously rejected the Ninth Circuit’s certification of a class comprised of approximately 1.5 million women who worked for Wal-Mart. The biggest impact of the Court’s decision, however, was the holding by five members that the claims lacked commonality. In the words of Justice Scalia, the class cannot sue over millions of employment decisions, “[w]ithout some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together.”
Now, employers facing or fearing class action discrimination suits will have to ask the preliminary question about the class: Got Glue? The Supreme Court’s opinion helps to define what is, and to a larger extent what is not, glue.
Can corporate policy be glue? You better believe it. In this case, however, there was no discriminatory policy. In fact, there was a company-wide policy of anti-discrimination. The plaintiffs tried to rely on Wal-Mart’s policy of granting broad discretion to individual managers in making pay decisions. But, in a company the size of Wal-Mart, “it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction.” In short, no glue.
The Court’s opinion notably downplays the value of statistical evidence in this situation. The plaintiffs provided statistical evidence which they maintain showed “statistically significant disparities between men and women at Wal-Mart [that] can be explained only by gender discrimination.” The Court reasoned that national and regional disparities failed to show discrimination at the district level, let alone the individual store level. “A regional pay disparity, for example, may be attributable to only a small set of Wal-Mart stores, and cannot by itself establish the uniform, store-by-store disparity.”
Affidavits from individuals showing anecdotal evidence of discrimination can provide some glue, but it depends on the circumstances. For example, the Court noted a previous case in which there were anecdotes for every eight members of the class, mostly coming from the operational centers where the class members were based. Here, the plaintiffs had only 120 affidavits for 1.5 million people. Fourteen entire states had no corresponding anecdotes, and half of all states had only one or two for the entire state. That’s not glue.
The Court found the proffered expert testimony in this case unpersuasive to say the least. A sociologist testified regarding “social framework” analysis, which allegedly showed that Wal-Mart’s corporate culture was susceptible to gender bias. But, the expert couldn’t “calculate whether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking.” No glue. In fact, it is questionable whether his testimony was even properly admitted.
The Court used the Wal-Mart case as an example of a class with no glue. As discussed previously, it also provides some hints about where future classes may find some.
Phil Miles is an attorney in McQuaide Blasko’s Labor and Employment Law Practice Group and publisher of Lawffice Space, an employment law blog.
Should employees be paid for time spent after hours reviewing business-related emails on their PDAs? The question has probably not occurred to most employers. But wage and hour class actions have been built upon lesser issues.
The general rule is that non-exempt employees must be paid for all hours worked. If an employee is “suffered or permitted” to work, even though the employer has not instructed or requested that he do so, the time is compensable working time. The rule does not depend on whether the work is performed before or after regular work hours.
Plaintiff attorneys might argue that it doesn’t matter whether the employer expected the non-exempt employees to monitor after-hours emails or whether the employees did so on their own initiative. Time was spent on work-related emails and the employees should be compensated, they would argue.
Social norms play a role. Late phone calls and meetings may be seen as an intrusion, but few see sending an after-hours email as a violation of etiquette. Add to that the seemingly irresistible impulse driving some people to constantly check emails on their PDAs. The use of some devices have been jokingly compared to crack cocaine addictions.
Attorneys in various legal forums have been discussing the topic lately. The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog recently addressed the topic here. The topic has been discussed on other internet forms, including here and here.
So far there have been no reports of wage and hour litigation involving PDAs, but it would be prudent for employers to take precautionary measures. Some commentators recommend that employers require employees to obtain permission prior to using the PDAs after hours. Others recommend giving PDAs to exempt employees only. All would agree that employers should not ignore the issue and they ought to devise an employee policy regarding the use of PDAs.
Christopher W. Olmsted
Barker Olmsted & Barnier, APLC
San Diego Employment Law Attorneys
California Employment Law • Class Actions • Employment Law • FLSA • Human Resources • Labor Law •
A couple of years ago, in Dukes et al. v. Wal-Mart, Inc., the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California certified a class of female employees against Wal-Mart. The case was noteworthy because it is a nationwide class action in which the plaintiffs claim Wal-Mart discriminates against pretty much all of its female employees in setting compensation and promotion decisions. The class size was estimated at 1.5 million workers, and was defined as “All women employed at any Wal-Mart domestic retail store at any time since December 26, 1998, who have been or may be subjected to Wal-Mart’s challenged pay and management track promotions policies and practices.”
Wal-Mart appealed the class certification order. The Ninth Circuit heard oral argument in August 2005, and finally issued its opinion today. A three judge panel voted 2-1 to affirm the district court’s decision. Barring settlement or a successful decertification of the class, the huge class action against Walmart will proceed to trial at some point in the future.