SF court to hear Wal-Mart arguments

March 10, 2009 2:49:22 PM PDT
A special 11-judge panel of a federal appeals court in San Francisco will hear arguments on March 24 on whether to allow the largest civil rights class action lawsuit in U.S. history in a case concerning Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

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The case concerns a lawsuit originally filed in federal court in San Francisco in 2001 by six female Wal-Mart employees who claim they were discriminated against in terms of pay and promotions.

The women are seeking to have the lawsuit go to trial as a class action on behalf of all present and former female employees of the department store chain since 1998. The total number in the group is estimated at between 1.5 million and 2 million women nationwide.

Arkansas-based Wal-Mart is the world's largest private employer.

If the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approves the case as a class action, it will be the largest in the nation's history, according to Jocelyn Larkin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Wal-Mart contends the case is not appropriate for a class action because employees' experiences vary at different stores and local managers are responsible for hiring and promotion decisions.

Last month, the appeals court agreed to have an expanded 11-judge panel review whether the lawsuit can be a class action. The panel will reconsider a 2007 decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that allowed a class action.

Larkin said, "At the heart of the case is whether a large corporation will be held accountable for systematic discrimination against up to 2 million women."

The attorney added, "In these economic times, the issue is not only pay equity but also economic survival."

Wal-Mart General Counsel Jeff Gearheart said last month, "We believe the experiences alleged by the six individuals who brought this suit are not representative of the experiences of our female associates."

Gearhart said, "Wal-Mart is a good place for women to work."

The appeals court may take several months to issue a written ruling.

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