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LOS ANGELES - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has added international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP to its legal team as the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer gears up to appeal a San Francisco federal judge's ruling turning a sex-discrimination lawsuit into a class action.
In store for Wal-Mart could be a long court fight or a possible settlement that could run into the billions. Last week's ruling by U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins, which extended a 2001 lawsuit to apply to all women who've worked for the world's largest retailer since December 1998, could affect as many as 1.6 million current and past employees of the company.
Gibson Dunn's Ted Boutrous, a Los Angeles-based partner, will serve as the lead lawyer on Wal-Mart's appeal. "This is an extraordinarily important case for all employers, large and small alike, and for employees, too," Boutrous told Progressive Grocer.
The company is expected to argue that the case is too complex to be fairly tried as a class action. Additionally, because the majority of pay and promotion decisions occur at store level, Wal-Mart is expected to argue that the class size will mean store managers won't have the chance to explain how they came to individual compensation and promotion decisions.
The company is further expected to argue that the class was certified under laws intended to provide injunctive relief, or to stop a specific practice that causes discrimination. But Judge Jenkins also ruled that the class can sue for monetary damages, which Wal-Mart may contend doesn't apply to the matter.