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It could be the largest employment discrimination case ever. Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, 01-2252, alleges that the nation’s leading private employer denies equal pay and promotions to women. With more than 700,000 possible plaintiffs, and damages that could run into the billions, it’s a plum of a case. But behind the scenes, Wal-Mart’s defense team may have hit some bumps in the road. Even before a class certification hearing was held, two major law firms had exited the case. When the complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco in June 2001, Wal-Mart was represented by veteran employment lawyer Gilmore Diekmann Jr., of Seyfarth Shaw’s San Francisco office. Soon after, Wal-Mart brought in Jones Day, which it selected as lead counsel after interviewing several firms. The team was led by the coordinator of Jones Day’s litigation group, Cleveland partner John Strauch. In April 2002, Seyfarth formally withdrew. Then, in December, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker partner Nancy Abell entered the fray and took the lead. Four months later Jones Day filed a motion to withdraw, which the court granted. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman says the company does not discuss its selection of counsel. Likewise, none of the defense attorneys would comment on the switches. Lead plaintiffs lawyer Brad Seligman claims these changes have helped his clients. Seligman, who heads a Berkeley foundation called The Impact Fund, notes that Paul, Hastings had the unenviable task of parachuting into a discovery process that was almost over. “They had enormous catch-up they had to do,” he said. The firm had less than a month to prepare for the depositions of some senior executives. “We were quite pleased with how the last set of depositions went,” Seligman says. “We don’t see it that way,” responds Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams. Of course, none of this will make any difference if Wal-Mart can defeat class certification. A hearing on this issue, originally set for July 25, has been pushed back to Sept. 24. Susan Beck is a senior writer for The American Lawyer magazine and is based in San Francisco. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

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