After 14 Years, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Discrimination Case will go to Trial

On Friday, June 5, a California federal judge announced that after 14 years of litigation, a prominent gender discrimination suit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. will go to trial. Betty Dukes, the lead plaintiff in the formerly large class action, is a past Wal-Mart greeter who alleges that she observed widespread gender bias during her time as an employee. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer preserved several of Dukes’ allegations, along with those of four other women, including the claim that they were excluded from promotion opportunities due to their gender.

“Overall, these cases survive,” Judge Breyer said during the San Francisco hearing. “There’s enough admissible evidence and questions of material fact that it should go to trial.”

While Judge Breyer ruled in Wal-Mart’s favor on certain claims regarding retaliation, unfairly gendered payment, and a hostile workplace environment, he did preserve all of the claims brought by Ms. Dukes, including that she was passed over for promotion because of her race and gender, and that she faced retaliation from Wal-Mart for complaining.

Dukes' original discrimination suit against Wal-Mart was filed in 2001. The district court certified a national class in 2004 and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision six years later, in 2010. Wal-Mart then appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the ruling in a landmark decision that has since been considered an obstacle to workers seeking to bring classwide discrimination claims—gender-based or otherwise. Wal-Mart lost a bid to throw out the suit in 2012, however, when Judge Breyer found that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not bar the consideration of modified classes.

At long last, the Dukes trial is set for September 1—but Judge Breyer noted that while the case is the oldest in the district, criminal cases will still take precedent under the speedy trial act, meaning it is possible for the trial date to be pushed back. The case is Betty Dukes et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.