Walmart Gender Discrimination Lawsuit Allowed To Proceed, Judge Says

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 27:  (L-R) Plaintiffs in the class action suit Dukes vs Wal-Mart, Betty Dukes, Patricia Surgeson
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 27: (L-R) Plaintiffs in the class action suit Dukes vs Wal-Mart, Betty Dukes, Patricia Surgeson and Edith Arana attend a press conference at the Equal Rights Advocates office on October 27, 2011 in San Francisco, California. After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a national class action suit against Wal-Mart for discrimination against female employees, attorneys for plaintiffs filed a new class action suit in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. The suit is seeking to end what is being alleged as discriminatory practices in the pay and promotion of female employees of Wal-Mart. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge rejected Wal-Mart Stores Inc's request to dismiss a gender discrimination case filed in California, but said he would rule later about whether the women plaintiffs had enough evidence to be certified as a class.

The ruling on Friday came from U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco federal court.

Plaintiffs alleging the world's largest retailer denied them pay raises and promotions because of their gender are regrouping after the U.S. Supreme Court last year dismantled a class of up to 1.5 million current and former Walmart workers.

The Walmart workers filed a reformulated lawsuit, saying they were confining their allegations to California. The new case could include several hundred thousand potential class members.

Walmart argued in part that the long history of the case, with over 10 years of litigation, warranted dismissal of the reformulated lawsuit.

But in his order on Friday, Breyer said he was not prepared to deny the plaintiffs an opportunity to present evidence.

Walmart attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. said the company has a strong policy against discrimination, and that the claims are unsuitable for a class action.

"The purported statewide class the plaintiffs allege is no more appropriate today than the nationwide class the Supreme Court has already rejected," Boutrous said.

But Brad Seligman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the ruling vindicates a legal strategy of filing the reformulated lawsuit in the wake of the Supreme Court's opinion. A similar lawsuit was also filed against Walmart in Texas, and Seligman said there will soon be others.

"The Supreme Court's opinion rejected a case, it didn't reject every case," Seligman said.

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Betty Dukes, Patricia Surgeson, Edith Arana, Deborah Gunter and Christine Kwapnoski, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, 01-2252.