Wal-Mart appeals class-action status in litigation

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Wal-Mart has petitioned to appeal class-action status granted in a lawsuit against the retail giant that claims black applicants were discriminated against for trucking jobs.

Judge William Wilson granted the status May 16 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Wal-Mart filed a petition for permission to appeal in the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis in late May, said company spokesman John Simley.

Two plaintiffs are named in the suit, and 35 affidavits were taken, said Chip Welch, representing one of three law firms bringing suit against the retailer. The plaintiffs represent a pattern of being discriminated against in their attempts to get hired as truckers, Welch said.

According to court documents, over a five-year period ending in 2005, Wal-Mart hired 4,135 over-the-road truck drivers. During that period, 4 percent to 6 percent of its drivers were black, and its new-hire work force was more than 7 percent black, according to court documents. At that time, an American Trucking Associations study determined 15 percent of U.S. truckers were black, court documents said.

“We believe that the case will be resolved in Wal-Mart’s favor once the merits of the case are addressed,” Simley said. “It’s important to remember, the only question the district court decided concerned class-action status. This has nothing to do with the merits of the case or whether the allegations are true.”

The suit was certified for purposes of class-wide liability, declaratory relief and equitable relief only. That means anyone seeking punitive damages would have to do so in a separate suit after the class action is over.

The class involved in the suit includes all black people in the continental United States who applied as over-the-road truckers at Wal-Mart since Sept. 22, 2001, but who were not hired. It also includes all black people in the continental United States during that period who were discouraged from applying as drivers because of Wal-Mart’s practices.

Wal-Mart has 10,000 full-time truckers and several thousand part-time drivers.