Former Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes class members were dealt another blow this week when Southern District of Florida District Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr. granted Wal-Mart’s motion to dismiss more regionally-focused class claims that had been brought by certain members of the doomed Dukes class. In Love v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 12-61959-Civ-SCOLA (S.D. Fla. Sept. 23, 2013), the district court held that the class claims being asserted were time-barred and thus subject to dismissal.
Following the United States Supreme Court’s landmark holding in Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), reversing the certification of a nationwide class of female Wal-Mart employees alleging broad claims of sex discrimination upon a finding that plaintiffs failed to provide evidence of some specific company-wide discriminatory pay and promotion policy, a number of former Dukes class members – including the plaintiffs in the subject matter – filed separate putative class action suits in other jurisdictions, asserting claims of discrimination at a more regional level. While the statute of limitations for individual claims by the Dukes class members was tolled during the pendency of that action, once the case was remanded following the Supreme Court’s decision, former class members faced deadlines to file individual charges with the EEOC and comply with the statute of limitations for their individual claims. Plaintiffs filed the subject putative class action on October 4, 2012, alleging that Wal-Mart engaged in sex discrimination in three regions in the Southeast United States, and asserting six counts of Title VII disparate treatment and disparate impact for each of the regions. They further asserted that they each met the statute of limitations deadline established by the remand court.
The district court, however, found that plaintiffs’ class claims were time-barred by virtue of the Eleventh Circuit’s “no piggybacking” rule, as set forth in Griffin v. Singletary, 17 F.3d 356 (11th Cir. 1994). In Griffin, the Eleventh Circuit held that “the pendency of a previously filed class action does not toll the limitations period for additional class actions by putative members of the original class.” Id. at 359. Thus, under the Griffin rule, while the statute of limitations is tolled and a class member may file a new suit asserting individual claims following the rejection of previously filed class claims, he or she “may not piggyback one class action onto another.” Id. at 359. The Fifth and Sixth Circuits have also adopted similar rules.
Pursuant to Griffin, Judge Scola held that “Plaintiffs’ claims are time-barred – the limitations period for class claims was not tolled, and Plaintiffs cannot assert class claims that were previously asserted and rejected in Dukes.” Rejecting plaintiffs’ argument that the “no piggybacking” rule does not apply as the scope of the present class is narrower than that in Dukes and the complaint contains new region-specific allegations, the court stated that limiting a class by geographic region and asserting region-specific allegations “does not transform the class claims into something different from the class claims asserted in Dukes,” but rather “serves only to attempt to cure the deficiencies in the Dukes class identified by the Supreme Court.” Griffin, stated the court, “prevents class members from pursuing their claims as class claims, regardless of whether the class is framed in a different manner or the class itself is different.”
Finally, the court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that two more recent Supreme Court cases – Shady Grove Orthopedic Associates v. Allstate Insurance Co., 559 U.S. 393 (2010), and Smith v. Bayer Corporation, 131 S. Ct. 2368 (2011) – “implicitly” overrule Griffin, concluding that neither case “directly addresses whether the pendency of a class action will toll the limitations period for successive class actions,” but rather “both address discrete issues of federalism.” The court, however, did note that “[t]he rationale for the no-piggybacking rule is certainly undermined by the Supreme Court’s rulings,” but concluded that while “[t]he Eleventh Circuit may wish to refine Griffin’s bright-line rule barring successive class actions by former class members,” the court was bound to apply the rule in the present matter.
This decision highlights yet another barrier that former Dukes class members have faced in attempting to re-define the scope of their class claims following the Supreme Court’s decision. (See Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. CV 01-022520-CRB (N.D. Cal. Aug. 2, 2013), discussed in a recent post found here – https://classactions.proskauer.com/2013/08/07/plaintiffs-once-again-denied-class-certification-in-dukes-v-wal-mart-stores-inc/) As this case seems likely to be appealed, however, it has the potential to provide a platform for the Eleventh Circuit to re-address the Griffin “no piggybacking” rule and clarify its position on the rule going forward.