March 31, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on March 31, 2014, issued an opinion holding that Stephanie Odle, one of the original named plaintiffs in the long-running sex discrimination litigation against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., had a timely claim.  The Fifth Circuit ruling reversed a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, which had granted Wal-Mart’s motion to dismiss Odle’s claims as untimely.

Although Stephanie Odle was one of the original named plaintiffs in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., because the case was pending in California, the court ruled that she could be a class member, but not a class representative, as she was not a California resident.  Odle continued as a potential class member until the U.S. Supreme Court decertified the nationwide class in 2011.She then filed her suit in the Northern District of Texas in October 2011 on behalf of herself and other similarly situated women.

Wal-Mart argued that Odle should have filed her own case following the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in 2010, which affirmed the nationwide class action, with the exception of those employees, like Odle, who were no longer employed at Wal-Mart when the Complaint was filed in 2001.  Because the district court had certified the class under Rule 23(b)(2), which permits certification of classes seeking injunctive relief, the Ninth Circuit limited the initial class to those employees who could seek injunctive relief. As to former employees, like Odle, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court to consider whether the class should be certified under Rule 23(b)(3) instead of 23(b)(2).  The district court never had the chance to do so, because Wal-Mart appealed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

Now, the Fifth Circuit has held that the remand to the district court to consider certification under Rule 23(b)(3) was in no way a decision denying certification of a class including Odle, and thus her claim – pursued following the Supreme Court decision to decertify the nationwide class – was timely. 

“This ruling is important not only for Stephanie Odle, but also for the many other women who were former employees of Wal-Mart as of June 2001 when the original Complaint was filed. These women, like Stephanie Odle, properly relied upon the Dukes class representatives to pursue their claims, and thus benefit from the tolling of the statute of limitations,” said Joseph M. Sellers of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, counsel in Dukes  v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and the new regional cases against Wal-Mart on behalf of female employees.

Ruling - March 31, 2014

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