Catholic University law school professor Suzette Malveaux delivered the centerpiece address during the 22nd Annual DePaul Law Review Symposium, held in Chicago on Feb. 24.
The program, “Class Action Rollback? Wal-Mart v. Dukes and the Future of Class Action Litigation” invited experts from around the nation to discuss and debate the long term implications of the United States Supreme Court decision last fall that essentially held that the massive class action lawsuit brought against retail behemoth Wal-Mart by millions of its female employees was too large to move ahead through the legal system.
The high court’s ruling was not on the legal merits of the case, but gave thumbs down on how it was configured as a class action suit.
Malveaux’s address, "The Power and Promise of Procedure: Examining the Class Action Landscape After Wal-Mart v. Dukes," dealt directly with the main question of the day: did Wal-Mart v Dukes signal the slow death of class action suits as an avenue to justice, or was it an isolated and narrow decision?
“The Court’s ruling may have little impact on employment discrimination class actions, given the size and scope of the Wal-Mart case,” stated Malveaux. “Cases the size of Wal-Mart are rare and this was very fact specific. With 1.5 million potential class members challenging discrimination nationwide, Dukes unquestionably tested the outer bounds of what it takes to hold a class together. Smaller classes are bound to be more successful.”
“On the other hand,” she continued, “the Court’s ruling may cut short a number of employment discrimination class actions premised on the theory of excessive subjectivity as a discriminatory policy. Although the Wal-Mart case seems extraordinary because of its size, it is not extraordinary when it comes to the plaintiffs’ underlying theory of liability. This means that the ruling has the potential to impact lots of cases premised on the same theory.”
The event was approved for CLE credit and the quality of the speakers impressed the audience. Comments received by the law review organizers afterward included thoughts like these:
- "I planned to go home after the morning session - but that Professor Malveaux, her presentation was worth staying for."
- “Thanks to all of you--this was one of best programs I have attended in my 30 years of practice.”
- “You should ask all of your panelists if they would be willing to redo this symposium and broadcast it for practitioners around the country, or publish an event-book. These presentations need to be out there.”