“IDEA Class Actions After Wal-Mart v. Dukes”

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IDEA class actions

In a new journal article, DePaul University College of Law professor Mark Weber analyzes how a recent Supreme Court case, limiting the reach of who can be included in a class-action lawsuit, will impact future cases under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation’s premier law governing special education services.

In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a million and a half current and former female employees of Wal-Mart filed a class-action lawsuit against the company, alleging gender discrimination in its salary and promotion decisions.

In 2011, the Supreme Court decertified the class, meaning that the lawsuit could not move forward as a single lawsuit. The Court’s five-person majority found that the class did not satisfy the requirement that there be a common question of law and fact. In addition, the Court found that there was not a common remedy, due to the various circumstances surrounding the alleged discrimination.

Weber argues that this ruling will likely limit the size, but not eliminate the use, of class-action lawsuits under IDEA, which have traditionally been used to challenge widespread discriminatory practices in schools.

“Class actions remain an option to address systemic violations of the special education law.,” Weber states in the article. “They may be somewhat different in form and size after Wal-Mart, and they may be supplemented, though probably not supplanted, by other mechanisms to enforce the law when a school system or other entity commits a widespread violation of the educational rights of children with disabilities.

“The class action landscape has been altered, but the ground remains.”

In the article, Weber analyzes two major decisions made in light of the Wal-Mart ruling. In 2012, the 7th Circuit decertified a class-action lawsuit filed against the Milwaukee Public School District, which alleged the District violated IDEA’s “child-find requirement” by failing to identify students potentially eligible for special education services. The decision, citing Wal-Mart, found that the violations were child-specific and found no proof of a general policy that violated the child-find requirement.

In 2013, the D.C. Circuit also vacated a class-action lawsuit regarding the child-find requirement. However, this court appeared to be more open to future IDEA class-action lawsuits and suggested a method for reviving the class, primarily by subdividing it into smaller classes.

Weber recommends that attorneys looking to bring IDEA class-actions should take one of three methods to distinguish the Wal-Mart case; by arguing that Wal-Mart is relevant only to employment law; by identifying certain discriminatory policies or; by identifying smaller, more homogenous classes.