Posts tagged as:

Wal-Mart v. Dukes

  • Defend yourself in the press against an employee’s litigation publicity, and you’ve “retaliated”? If you say so, Your Honor [Jon Hyman]
  • Hijab-wearing applicant never informed Abercrombie she needed religious accommodation of Look Policy; 10th Circuit reverses EEOC win [Wolters Kluwer, EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch]
  • What, no more drop-ins from other states? “Gov. Jerry Brown signs athlete workers’ comp bill” [L.A. Times, background]
  • ProPublica on supposed decline and fall of employment class actions after Wal-Mart v. Dukes [Ted Frank, my take]
  • How many online readers need to follow OFCCP press releases on federal-contractor law but have so little fluency in English that they require a version in Hmong, Lao, Tagalog, or Urdu? [Department of Labor]
  • What happened to the carpal tunnel epidemic? The condition itself didn’t go away [Freakonomics via Ira Stoll]
  • Gail Heriot on affirmative action at Cato Constitution Day [video]

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Maybe the loose talk about the Supreme Court having done away with company-wide class actions in Wal-Mart v. Dukes was just so much loose talk. I explain at Cato at Liberty.

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For many years, under a widespread interpretation of a 1974 Supreme Court case called Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, many courts believed that in deciding whether to certify a lawsuit as a class action they were not authorized to look ahead to the suit’s merits, even if the evidence at hand suggested those merits to be fatally flawed. In its landmark decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, however, the Court made clear that determining whether the prerequisites for class handling have been satisfied will frequently call on courts to consider and resolve questions that overlap the merits. But the exact application of Dukes has yet to be worked out, and lower courts are generating inconsistent results.

The Court has agreed to take up these questions again in a case called Comcast v. Behrend. The Third Circuit, considering an antitrust case challenging Comcast’s business practices in communities around Philadelphia as anticompetitive, upheld certification despite Comcast’s argument that some members of the plaintiff class could not have suffered injury; in particular, it rejected Comcast’s argument that the judge should subject the views of the plaintiff’s expert on damages to Daubert scrutiny to determine whether those views were based on principles accepted by the relevant scientific community.

Now the Cato Institute has filed an amicus brief (to quote my colleague Ilya Shapiro)

urging the Court to clarify that what it meant in Dukes was that a full inquiry into the reliability and admissibility of expert testimony (a so-called Daubert inquiry) is required at the class-certification stage. A lower standard would obviously prejudice defendants because class certification “magnifies and strengthens the number of unmeritorious claims” and creates “insurmountable pressure on defendants to settle.” But it would also prejudice absent class members because certification based on inadmissible evidence may distort their perception of the likelihood of success and encourage the members to stay in the class. Since all class members who don’t opt out of the class are ultimately bound by a class action judgment, there’s a large potential for harm to these potentially valid claims as well.

For more background on the facts and legal implications of Comcast v. Behrend, see the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage, Paul Karlsgodt, and Sean Wajert and, on the related case of Gates v. Rohm & Haas, Andrew Trask.

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  • Despite misconception that the NLRB goes after employers only over union-related issues, its reach includes “concerted activity” by workers whether unionized or not, and it intends to make that power felt [Jon Hyman]
  • EEOC cracks down on Marylou’s, Massachusetts coffee shop chain said to hire “pretty” staff. Tougher scrutiny of “looksism” ahead? [James McDonald/Fisher & Phillips, HR Morning, Boston Herald, related editorial]
  • As critics warned at the time, Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblowing provisions make a versatile weapon for employment plaintiffs [Daniel Schwartz]
  • “Is Your Job Too Hard? File a Lawsuit!” [Philip Miles]
  • Unions go to court seeking to overturn new Indiana right to work law [Asheesh Agerwal, Liberty Law] “Unions: Political By Nature” [Ivan Osorio, CEI "Open Market"] SEIU vigilant against menace of higher employer wage offers [James Sherk, NRO] Metropolitan Opera’s $516,577 electrician outearned Carnegie Hall’s $436,097 stagehand [Ira Stoll]
  • Sen. Al Franken [D-Minn.] and Rep. Rosa DeLauro [D-Conn.] introduce bill to overturn SCOTUS’s Wal-Mart v. Dukes [The Hill, Paul Karlsgodt, PoL, Andrew Trask]
  • Lefties: you ‘tarians slight the greater freedom of being able to force people to employ you [MR: Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok]
  • If you’re caught sleeping on the job, courts may not prove sympathetic to your age bias claim [Eric Meyer, Employer Handbook]

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October 14 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 14, 2011

  • Pre-terror-attack antibiotic availability? HHS doesn’t think you’re sophisticated enough to handle that freedom [Stewart Baker]
  • Uh-oh: some New York lawmakers want “a more refined First Amendment” [Slashdot, Lucy Steigerwald]
  • Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision could curb certification of some wage and hour class actions [Fox]
  • “Miss. Supreme Court Removes Judge from $322M Asbestos Case Because of Dad’s Lawsuits” [ABA Journal]
  • Mass. town wants to seize family motel under forfeiture law, IJ objects [Jacob Sullum, Mark Perry]
  • Will FDA use its new tobacco-regulatory power to stub out cigars? [DC]
  • “Dole settles pesticide litigation” [WSJ Law Blog, background]

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SCOTUSblog, the eminent Supreme-Court-watching site, has been running a symposium on the future of class actions after such decisions as Wal-Mart v. Dukes, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, and Smith v. Bayer. Contributors include many names familiar from our columns, including Ted Frank, Andrew Trask, Russell Jackson, and Paul Karlsgodt.

And a reminder to those of you who can make it to the Washington, D.C. area next Thursday: Cato’s annual Constitution Day will feature three outstanding panels reviewing the work of the high court in the past term, including a panel moderated by me and featuring Roger Pilon (Cato) on pre-emption, Andrew Trask (McGuire Woods) on Wal-Mart, and Jonathan Adler (Case Western, Volokh Conspiracy) on climate change litigation. You can register here.

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Two weeks from this Thursday, on Sept. 15, Cato is holding its annual Constitution Day in Washington, D.C., just down the street from the Institute offices (which are undergoing renovation). The event will celebrate the publication of the 10th annual Cato Supreme Court Review and panelists will include familiar names like Jonathan Adler, Orin Kerr, Roger Pilon, Ilya Shapiro, Andrew Trask and many others. I’ll be moderating a panel on “Federalism, Civil Procedure, Business, and the Proper Judicial Role,” which will discuss among other topics the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Wal-Mart v. Dukes. The closing lecture will be given by Judge Alex Kozinski. How can you not plan to attend?

July 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 19, 2011

  • More on CPSC’s crib ban train wreck [Commissioner Anne Northup, more, earlier]
  • One man’s nightmare of false accusation [LA Times via PoL]
  • How many plaintiff’s-side flicks is HBO going to air this summer, anyway? ["Mann v. Ford," Abnormal Use]
  • Apple granted “incredibly broad patent” over screen gesture technology [Tabarrok]
  • Will Congress reverse this term’s much-attacked SCOTUS decisions? [Alison Frankel] Podcast on Wal-Mart v. Dukes with Brian Fitzpatrick [Fed Soc] “Wal-Mart ruling no knock-out blow for class actions” [Reuters] Contrary to some assertions, current law does strongly incentivize individual job-bias claims [Bader] More on case: Dan Bushell, and welcome Craig Newmark readers.
  • Mississippi stops proceedings in $322 million asbestos case to consider judge’s possible conflict [JCL, earlier here, here]
  • Nice coat, where’dja get it? [annals of incompetent crime, UK Daily Mail]

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July 12 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 12, 2011

  • Not for first time, Dahlia Lithwick misrepresents Wal-Mart case [Ponnuru, Whelan, earlier here and here]
  • Merciful gods, please spare us ghastly “Caylee’s Law” proposal [Josh Blackman, Reuters, Greenfield, Frank] More on constitutional flaws [Robson, Tribe]
  • Mark Perry on efforts to replace the relatively open-entry Washington, D.C. taxi system with NYC-style cartelization via medallion;
  • “Wrongful Convictions: How many innocent Americans are behind bars?” [Balko]
  • “Persaud identified himself as a juror, offering to fix the verdict for a fee.” [CBS NY; Long Island med-mal case]
  • “Is the Common Law the Solution to Pollution?” [Jonathan Adler, PERC]
  • “Rice Krispies class action settlement” [Ted Frank]

June 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 30, 2011

From Jim Copland and Ted Frank of the Manhattan Institute.

Some academic critics say the Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision is the latest in a string of decisions in which the Court has insisted that litigants be accorded individual rather than group or batch consideration, even though “a more collectivist view,” as Connecticut lawprof Alexandra Lahav contends, would carry with it more “potential for social reform.” I take up this charge, and defend the Court, at Cato at Liberty. More: John Steele at Legal Ethics Forum, with a link to Samuel Issacharoff’s work.


I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer on the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision. The headline (“Reining in Frivolous Class-Action Lawsuits”) is theirs; I wouldn’t use the term “frivolous” to describe the case, which after all did convince the Ninth Circuit, if not any of the Supreme nine. An excerpt:

…The misconceptions about this case begin with the identities of the real combatants. On NPR’s Marketplace this week, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick described the plaintiffs as “1.5 million female employees of Wal-Mart who are trying to file a class-action suit.” But, of course, most of those women are not “trying” to do anything of the sort.

Rather, a relative handful of them have hired lawyers, and those lawyers daringly sought to get themselves declared the legal representatives of the other 1.496 million (or however many), who have expressed no inclination whatsoever to sue. …

The message of this ruling is simple: Employees have to prove that they have been legally wronged, not just cash in because somebody else was.

More about Wal-Mart v. Dukes here, here, and here (& welcome readers from Ira Stoll/Future of Capitalism, Jonathan Adler/Volokh Conspiracy, State Bar of Michigan blog, Omaha World Herald (editorial), Real Clear Politics, and, on the headline issue, Elie Mystal/Above the Law).

Yesterday’s decision was the most momentous Supreme Court pronouncement on class actions in many years, addressing issues that go far beyond the case at hand. A sampling of early analysis:

* Some consideration of merits okay at certification stage. Paul Karlsgodt:

For more than 30 years, plaintiffs’ counsel and many courts have cited the Court’s opinion in Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156 (1974) as prohibiting any examination of the plaintiffs’ claims on the merits at the class certification phase. Consistent with the majority trend in the lower federal courts, the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. confirms that a court should consider and resolve any issues of fact that are necessary to determine whether one or more elements of Rule 23 are satisfied, regardless of whether those issues may overlap or be identical to one or more issues to be decided in ruling on the merits of the plaintiff’s claims.

In its day the Eisen case was a milestone in the 1960s-1970s liberalization of class action procedure, and seemed at the time to authorize the plaintiff’s side to dream up all the actions it wanted while the defense side could not block the actions at the certification stage by pointing out that they were bogus on the merits. Russell Jackson bluntly assesses the case’s fate: “Stick a fork in Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin. It’s done!”

* Statistical proofs can’t be used to bypass individualized defenses. At least in the context of back pay discrimination claims, all nine justices agreed that the company had a right to assert individualized defenses based on the details of particular cases rather than simply hand over a giant damage check based on some formula derived from statistical testimony. In particular, the Court said:

Because the Rules Enabling Act forbids interpreting Rule 23 to “abridge, enlarge, or modify any substantive right,” a class cannot be certified on the premise that Wal-Mart will not be entitled to litigate its statutory defenses to individual claims.

Russell Jackson draws out implications for actions far removed from the employment context:

This means that third-party-payor claims and consumer fraud class actions will not be able to prove causation or reliance using statistical proof like that proposed and rejected in McLaughlin v. American Tobacco Co., 522 F.3d 215 (2d Cir. 2008) in order to facilitate class certification. This is BIG NEWS!!!

* Subjective managerial discretion under less suspicion. Returning to the employment context, a key issue in the case is whether plaintiffs could assert the requisite common question by challenging Wal-Mart’s delegation of decentralized discretion to store managers over many issues of pay and promotion. The Court majority refused to entertain such a challenge. Michael Fox:

The 5-4 opinion seems to pull the teeth from what I have always considered one of the more dangerous Supreme Court opinions, Watson v. Fort Worth Bank and Trust, a 1988 decision which seemed to permit a disparate impact case any time an employer’s promotion practices were subjective (which was every employer) and there was a disparate impact (almost every employer).

If Fox is right, this is a giant step in the right direction, and helps correct a pernicious tendency in modern employment law to pressure large employers into maintaining more centralized (and inevitably more bureaucratic) personnel policies.

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I’ll be on the radio a lot today talking about the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart v. Dukes decision. That includes a bunch of Fox Radio stations at various times between 7 and 11 a.m. EDT, and then the “C4″ (Clarence Mitchell IV) show on Baltimore’s WBAL, scheduled for 1:35. More on the Dukes decision here and here.

P.S.: The station lineup includes: KURV (McAllen, TX), WHBC (Canton, OH), WSCC (Charleston, SC), WHAS (Louisville, KY), WERC (Birmingham, AL), WTRC (South Bend, IN), WGST (Atlanta, GA), WSJK (Champaign, IL), WOAI (San Antonio, TX), WSYR (Syracuse, NY), WLNI (Lynchburg, VA), KLIF (Dallas, TX), WTKS (Savannah, GA), WIND (Chicago, IL), KOGO (San Diego, CA), KCOL (Fort Collins, CO), and WAJR (Morgantown, WV).

I’ve got an instant analysis up at Cato at Liberty of the retailer’s big Supreme Court win today in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the class action certification case. The Court ruled unanimously that the Ninth Circuit had jumped the gun in certifying the case as a class action, and 5-to-4 (Scalia writing) that plaintiffs had failed to assemble the evidence needed for certification. (& welcome Real Clear Politics “Best of the Blogs”, Atlantic Wire, Nicole Neily/Daily Caller, Jon Hyman, SCOTUSBlog)

More: Josh Blackman (with a comment on the Court’s recognition of the work of the late Richard Nagareda), Hans Bader, Jim Copland, John Steele Gordon. Spot-the-errors dept.: Dahlia Lithwick. Briefs and other resources on the case at SCOTUSBlog.


The distinguished panel includes Lester Brickman and Myriam Gilles (Cardozo), Richard Epstein (NYU), Jim Copland and Ted Frank (Manhattan Institute), R. Matthew Cairns (Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell and the 2011 president of the Defense Research Institute), Russell Jackson (Skadden), and Andrew Trask (McGuire Woods). You can follow the discussion here.

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April 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2011