On Monday, the federal appeals court in San Francisco narrowly agreed to allow a sex discrimination suit against Wal-Mart to proceed as a class action on behalf of more than 1 million women. At the center of the landmark case are three Berkeley lawyers, Brad Seligman, Betty Lawrence and Jocelyn Larkin.

Lawrence practices at San Francisco-based Davis, Cowell & Bowe, a firm “committed to public service and social justice”. Seligman is the executive director and Larkin the deputy executive director of Berkeley-based Impact Fund, which “provides strategic leadership and support for litigation to achieve economic and social justice”.

The 6-5 decision in Dukes v Wal-Mart by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals came after nearly a decade of legal wrangling (you can read the entire decision here; photo, above right, shows Seligman and plaintiff Betty Dukes after an earlier court decision in 2004). Seligman is lead counsel for the plaintiffs and the Impact Fund has supported the action since it was filed in June, 2001.  The suit alleges systematic discrimination against women in compensation and promotions at both Wal-Mart and its subsidiary, Sam’s Club. It is the largest civil rights class action suit in history.

Following the court decision on Monday, Seligman told The New York Times, “Wal-Mart tries to project an improved image as a good corporate citizen. No amount of P.R. is going to work until it addresses the claims of its female employees.”

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...