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Other class-actions unhurt by Supreme Court's Wal-Mart ruling

Last month, we wrote about the important and highly-controversial ruling by the US Supreme Court. By a narrow majority, the Court ruled that a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Inc. could not proceed. Because it would have been the largest class-action lawsuit in US history, many feared that the Court's decision would hinder the success of future employment lawsuits.

While this was certainly a landmark ruling, recent events have shown that it has not put an end to employment class-action lawsuits. Over the last several weeks, judges in Florida and other parts of the US have ruled that major employment lawsuits can proceed with class-action status.

Since the ruling, many defense attorneys (representing employers) have tried to use the Wal-Mart ruling to delegitimize other employment class-action lawsuits. This is because plaintiffs who sue in a large group have more power and resources and are therefore more dangerous to employers.

However, over the past several weeks, judges all around the country have ruled in favor of allowing class-action lawsuits to proceed. At the end of last month, a federal judge in Florida ruled that a lawsuit against Starbucks Corporation can proceed as a class action. The lawsuit includes more than 700 workers and concerns problems with overtime pay.

Similarly, courts in New York, California and Ohio have recently denied attempts to decertify class-action status in major employment lawsuits. While the Wal-Mart case concerned gender discrimination, most of these lawsuits regard matters such as wage and hour claims, which experts say are easier to justify as a class-action lawsuit.

The Wal-Mart ruling was monumental, and it will no doubt have a legal impact for years to come. But it is good to know that the ruling did not sound the death knell for all class-action employment lawsuits. Workers' access to the legal system is still alive and well.

Source: Thomson Reuters Westlaw News, "Wal-Mart ruling no knock-out blow for class actions," Moira Herbst, 12 July 2011

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