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Businesses say judges interpreting Wal-Mart decision too narrowly

Attorneys who represent businesses have been watching to see how the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the giant Wal-Mart sex discrimination case might affect pending class-action employment litigation. In the weeks following the case, the class-action status of several plaintiff groups who have filed lawsuits against their employers has been upheld. These decisions have prompted some businesses to complain that judges have been interpreting the Supreme Court’s recent ruling too narrowly.

According to a recent analysis piece in Reuters, these attorneys say that the decision meant that a greater burden would be placed on employees who sought to band together in large numbers and sue their employer. These employees would be held to a stricter standard in defining themselves as a class and be required to show proof that they had gone through the same experience in the workplace and were discriminated against in the same way for the same reasons or had experienced the same violations regarding wage-and-hour or overtime laws.

According to Reuters, the class-action status of 700 employees of Starbucks has been upheld in a overtime pay lawsuit, despite Starbucks’ request that the group be declassified following the Wal-Mart ruling. Dollar Tree Inc succeeded in having a judge declassify a group of several hundred employees suing the company in an overtime dispute. Several other classes in wage-and-hour and overtime disputes have been upheld.

It is believed that the ruling will have a more direct impact on other giant class-action sex discrimination lawsuits that represent plaintiffs across the country. Employment litigation like this is pending against Toshiba Corp, Costco Wholesale Corp, Cigna Corp, Bayer and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Source: Reuters, Analysis: “Wal-Mart ruling no knock-out blow for class actions,” Moira Herbst, 12 July 2011

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