The events of the past year in the workplace class action world demonstrate that the array of bet-the-company litigation issues that businesses face continue to evolve on a landscape that is undergoing significant change.
By almost any measure, 2012 was a year of significant change for workplace class action litigation.
More than any other development in 2012, the decision in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), had a wide-ranging impact on virtually all types of class actions pending in both federal and state courts throughout the county. In many respects, Wal-Mart was the “800 pound gorilla” in the courtroom in 2012 as litigants argued and judges analyzed class certification issues. Rule 23 decisions in 2012 pivoted off of Wal-Mart, and leverage points in class action litigation increased or decreased depending on the manner in which judges interpreted and applied Wal-Mart.
As is well known by now, the Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart elucidated whether Rule 23(b)(2) could be used to recover individualized monetary relief for a class (and held it may not), established a heightened standard for the Rule 23(a)(2) commonality requirement (and determined that common questions for a class must have common answers), and rejected previous misinterpretations of Supreme Court precedent on Rule 23 burdens of proof (and found that to the extent factual determinations that go to the merits also overlap with the Rule 23 requirements, those factual issues must be analyzed to determine the propriety of class certification). As a result, Wal-Mart fostered a tidal wave of decisions in 2012, as litigants and courts grappled with the ruling’s implications in a wide variety of class action litigation contexts.
Against this backdrop, the plaintiffs’ class action employment bar filed and prosecuted significant class action and collective action lawsuits against employers in 2012. In turn, employers litigated an increasing number of novel defenses to these class action theories, fueled in part by the new standards enunciated in Wal-Mart. As case law developments in 2012 reflect, federal and state courts addressed a myriad of new theories and defenses in ruling on class action and collective action litigation issues. The impact and meaning of “Wal-Mart issues” were at the forefront of these case law developments.
As a first for our readers, we created a two part video blog on these issues. The first part can be found below: