Supreme Court to hear Wal-Mart gender discrimination, global warming cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in Wal-Mart v. Dukes [docket; cert. petition, PDF], a massive gender discrimination class action lawsuit. The issues are (1) whether claims for monetary relief can be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) [text] and, if so, under what circumstances; and (2) whether the class certification ordered under rule 23(b)(2) was consistent with rule 23(a). The case was filed in 2001 by female Wal-Mart employees [class website] who contend that Wal-Mart's nationwide policies result in lower pay for women than men in comparable positions and longer waits for management promotions than men. Wal-Mart appealed to the Supreme Court in August after the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld class certification [JURIST reports] in April. The certified class, which in 2001 was estimated to comprise more than 1.5 million women, includes all women employed by Wal-Mart nationwide at any time after December 26, 1998, making this the largest class action lawsuit in US history.

Also Monday, the court agreed to hear American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut [docket; cert. petition, PDF], regarding whether electric utilities contributed to global warming [JURIST news archive]. The questions presented are:

  1. Whether States and private parties have standing to seek judicially-fashioned emissions caps on five utilities for their alleged contribution to harms claimed to arise from global climate change caused by more than a century of emissions by billions of independent sources.

  2. Whether a cause of action to cap carbon dioxide emissions can be implied under federal common law where no statute creates such a cause of action, and the Clean Air Act speaks directly to the same subject matter and assigns federal responsibility for regulating such emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency.

  3. Whether claims seeking to cap defendants' carbon dioxide emissions at "reasonable" levels, based on a court's weighing of the potential risks of climate change against the socioeconomic utility of defendants' conduct, would be governed by "judicially discoverable and manageable standards" or could be resolved without "initial policy determination[s] of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion."
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled last year that states can sue power companies for emitting carbon dioxide, reversing a district court decision [JURIST reports] that found the plaintiffs' claim was a non-justiciable political question. The lawsuit was brought by eight states—California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin—as well as New York City and three land trusts, against coal-burning utilities American Electric Power, Southern Company, Xcel Energy, Cinergy Corporation [corporate websites] and the Tennessee Valley Authority [official website].

 

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