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Recently in Scientific Evidence Category

Opening thoughts and questions

April 13, 2011 6:08 AM

I'm  excited to see what some of our guests have to say on the pending Supreme Court case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which is in essence the mother of all employment-law class actions. Richard's piece is a good start, fleshing out how two areas of law -- employment discrimination law and class actions -- come together here. I'll start with a few questions, pulling out the key issues as I see them:

  1. The class action rule at play. When I wrote about this case after initial reports that it was certified at the trial-court level, I noted how it didn't fit under a traditional 23(b)(3) schema. Of course, as is now obvious, the certification rule at play isn't (b)(3) but rather (b)(2). It would seem to me that using (b)(2) here is disingenuous. To begin with, it's hard for me to see how the damages at issue here don't force this case into a (b)(3) framework. Even Justice Ginsburg -- hardly a critic of litigation generally or employment-discrimination litigation specifically -- seemed to recognize in oral argument that there's a pretty serious issue about how to handle the damages phase in a way that doesn't adversely affect the interests of many (realistically thousands or hundreds of thousands) of class plaintiffs. Doesn't using (b)(2) here swallow the (b)(3) rule? And if so, wouldn't (b)(3) be somewhat superfluous, at least in similar types of cases? And even under a (b)(2) rationale, the injunctive remedy isn't at all clear here; it's a far cry from the nuisance abatement scenario Richard describes, and short of Wal-Mart completely centralizing and reconstructing its hiring practices, under court supervision, how exactly is an injunction supposed to work?   I'd be very interested in hearing more about these issues from some of our experts more versed in class-action practice.
  2. Expert evidence at the class certification stage. A key question before the Court is of course the degree to which it's proper to rely on the plaintiffs' expert evidence to establish their theory of the case, both to establish that discrimination exists and to tie it somehow back to Wal-Mart, with respect to all of its female employees. If Daubert review isn't appropriate at the class-certification stage, I don't see how any court could evaluate claims in a case like this: effectively, any employer likely has some gender or race or other disparity in its hiring or promotion patterns, and it's always possible to concoct some theory to explain such disparities. Don't we have to have some standard to evaluate such claims before launching a class-action claim that could leave an employer's hiring practices under court control?
  3. How this case intersects with "disparate impact" in employment discrimination cases. I think Richard is right to focus on disparate impact here. As some of the justices suggested at oral argument, there's some tension in the plaintiffs' theory: on the one hand, Wal-Mart is responsible for gender disparities in promotion and pay across all its stores nationwide; but it's responsible under the theory that its promotion and pay practices are too decentralized, leaving decisions up to individuals who are, at least in some cases, likely to be governed by prejudice. Isn't this rationale just a backdoor way to solidify a disparate-impact standard -- requiring that large employers centralize decision-making to avoid disparities in hiring, pay, and promotions? How does the theory here jibe with the Supreme Court's rulings on disparate impact, such as the recent (race) case Ricci v. DeStefano?

So, at the outset, I have lots of questions. I look forward to fleshing them out.

 

 

 

FEATURED DISCUSSION ARCHIVE:


Obamacare Decision: Reactions, July 2012
Law School Faculty Diversity, May-June 2012
Class Actions, May 2012
Constitutionality of Individual Mandate, March 2012
Human Rights and International Law, February-March 2012
The constitutionality of President Obama's recess appointments, January 2012
Do caps on medical malpractice damages hurt consumers?, December 2011
Trial Lawyers Inc.: State Attorneys General, October 2011
Wal-Mart v. Dukes, April 2011
Kagan Supreme Court nomination, May-June 2010
Election roundtable, November-December 2006
Who's the boss, September 2006
Medical judgement, July 2006
Lawyer Licensing, May 2006
Contingent claims, April 2006
Smoking guns, July 2004

Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

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The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.