In April the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the biggest class action
employment discrimination case in U.S. history. The court will not hear the arguments of the case. Instead it will consider whether the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was right in allowing it to move forward as a class action. The suit (Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes, No. 10-277) was brought by between 500,000 and 1.5 million former and current female Walmart employees who allege that the company has denied them equal pay and promotion opportunities.
For its part, Walmart contends that the class action should be broken into individual suits because the circumstances of individual plaintiffs have little in common and thus can’t be lumped into a single suit. Walmart attorneys maintain that the plaintiffs hold a wide range of jobs, work in more than 3,400 stores in 50 states, and report to hundreds of different managers, thus making it impossible for there to be a coordinated effort to discriminate against female employees.
This much is clear; the court’s decision will change how large-scale class action suits will be handled in the future.
But attorneys aren’t the only ones closely monitoring this case. IT professionals at law firms and corporations are keeping a close eye on how the court will rule because a decision in favor of the plaintiffs will also change the size and scope of eDiscovery.
If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Walmart will be forced to locate, search, cull, review and retain hundreds of millions pages of documentation. The costs associated with conducting eDiscovery of this scale is impossible to calculate with any degree of certainty, but it’s not unreasonable to think that the price tag could exceed a hundred million dollars..
Even if Wal-Mart prevails, their eDiscovery challenges remain high. Without knowing which individuals will file lawsuits Walmart will be obligated to place legal holds on all electronic information that may pertain to those matters. Adding further complication will be the extensive amount of cross-matter management that will arise as many of the documents pertinent to one individual’s claim will exist in many others. If careful planning and project management is not performed, the additional complexity of handling multiple related matters and the potential for redundant work could raise the cost for eDiscovery even higher than for a single, larger matter.
The Walmart case highlights precisely why eDiscovery must be a proactive concern for corporations even if they are not currently facing litigation. Failing to implement the proper technology and develop business processes to conduct end-to-end eDiscovery can generate prohibitively high costs at precisely the time a corporation is under greatest pressure and risk.
Apart from whether or not you believe the case should or should not move forward as a class action you should ask yourself the following questions:
Would your company be able to conduct eDiscovery for a large-scale class action lawsuit?
Are your eDiscovery systems and processes ready to scale for the increased workload?
Do you have the processes, technology and outside partners in place to quickly implement a defensible eDiscovery strategy?
Join the discussion and tell us how well your company is prepared for class action litigation.
Note from Blake: If you have any Ediscovery questions or needs, please call Daegis at 415.364.7300