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Two lawsuits against Walmart Inc. in which 79 women are pursuing pay-bias claims as part of the class dissolved by the U.S. Supreme Court's Dukes decision must be refiled as individual cases, a federal judge has ruled.

On Friday, Judge Robert Scola Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted Walmart's motion to sever the claims in both cases into separate actions. This means each woman represented in the cases must file an individual amended complaint, and the original lawsuits are now closed.

The women will not be charged a filing fee for the new civil cases. However, any cases not filed by the deadline the judge set will be dismissed.

The original suits -- Jewel Price et al v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., with 45 plaintiffs, and Francine Radtka et al v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., with 34 plaintiffs -- were filed Feb. 1. All members of the certified class in the landmark case Betty Dukes et al v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the women accused the Bentonville retailer of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination against workers based on their race, religion, ethnicity or sex. They asked for damages including back pay.

In both orders granting the motions to sever the cases, Scola wrote that "while it is true that all Plaintiffs share the same cause of action, gender discrimination in violation of Title VII," he added that "there is no common policy, practice, or set of facts that applied to every Plaintiff."

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said the retailer is "pleased the Court ended yet another attempt by these lawyers to group dozens of plaintiffs into one suit against us. As we have said, if these plaintiffs believe they have been treated unfairly, they deserve to have their timely, individual claims heard in court -- but not in some package the law does not recognize.

"We will thoughtfully address each case as we continue to defend the company," Hargrove said.

Walmart has said it "has had a strong policy against discrimination in place for many years and we continue to be a great place for women to work and advance."

Lindsey Wagner, an attorney with Scott Wagner & Associates law firm who represents the Florida women, said in an email that the judge's decision "still has no impact on the merits of the cases. While it is Plaintiffs' position that it would have been more efficient to coordinate discovery in a consolidated case, all of these women will still be moving forward."

Because of the large number of women involved in the two Florida suits, their filing drew renewed media attention to the ongoing Dukes saga.

Betty Dukes, who died in 2017, was a greeter at a Walmart store in California when she and five other employees sued the retailer in 2001. The women claimed they were paid less than male co-workers and passed over for raises and promotions that went to less-qualified men.

Their fight ended June 20, 2011, when the Supreme Court reversed the class certification order. The justices ruled unanimously that the plaintiffs failed to prove a pattern of sex discrimination at Walmart, and therefore the suit didn't meet the standards for class certification. They also ruled 5-4 that the plaintiffs didn't have enough in common to constitute a class.

Women from that 1.5 million-member class -- the largest in U.S. history -- continue to sue Walmart individually or in small groups.

Business on 07/18/2019

Print Headline: Retailer pay-bias lawsuits split up

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