Wal-Mart Wins In Massive Sex-Discrimination Case
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday determined that a massive sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart could not go forward as a class action. The lawsuit, representing 1.5 million female employees, claimed Wal-Mart systematically treated women differently from men in its pay, promotion and disciplinary practices.
The decision is a victory for big business. If the court had allowed the case to go forward, it would have opened corporations to class action suits of unprecedented size and scope.
The primary question at hand was whether the female employees had enough in common to qualify as a “class.” Not even close, said the majority in the 5-4 ruling.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, which determined that the cases of so many individuals at so many stores could not be lumped together and tried with one swipe:
Without some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question why was I disfavored.
The Ninth Circuit District court, known as the most liberal of district appeals courts, ruled in support of the plaintiffs in 2010, allowing the case to go forward as a class action lawsuit.
The Ninth Discrict court, according to Forbes blogger Daniel Fisher, has a history of finding "new and creative" ways to expand plaintiffs' rights. The Supreme Court often rejects these moves.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the partial dissent, arguing that there was significant evidence of company-wide discrimination:
The plaintiffs’ allegations state claims of gender discrimination in the form of biased decisionmaking in both pay and promotions. The evidence reviewed by the District Court adequately demonstrated that resolving those claims would necessitate examination of particular policies and practices alleged to affect, adversely and globally, women employed at Wal-Mart’s stores. Rule 23(a)(2), setting a necessary but not a sufficient criterion for class-action certification, demands nothing further.
The plaintiffs who wish to seek damages from the retailer must now sue individually.
Betty Dukes, the 60-year-old Wal-Mart greeter and cashier who became the face of the case, says her employer unfairly docked her pay and demoted her due to sex discrimination. Another, Edith Arana, said she was consistently and unfairly passed up for promotions. Both are interviewed in this piece on the Root.
The cases against Wal-Mart have provoked widespread discussions of women’s rights in the workplace.
The Daily Kos argues this decision is just another example of big business winning in Chief Justice John Roberts' court.
Reach Ryan Faughnder here.