Called one of the most expansive class actions ever, the lawsuit against Wal-Mart was rejected by the Supreme Court on Monday by a narrow 5-4 vote. The lawsuit claimed the retail giant discriminated against some 1.5 million of its female workers.
The Supreme Court justices ruled that the lawsuit didn’t qualify for a class action claim.
Three current and former Wal-Mart employees had alleged that the retailer – the nation’s largest private employer – discriminated against them on the basis of the sex by denying them equal pay or promotions. They claimed that the “corporate culture” permits bias against women.
Rejecting the case, the high court determined that “significant proof” that Wal-Mart “operated under a general policy of discrimination” was absent, Scalia wrote in the court’s opinion. Moreover, the women did not have enough in common to qualify as a “class.”
“Without some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to saythat examination of all the class members’ claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question why was I disfavored,” Scalia wrote.
Had civil rights lawyers thrived in the case, they had hoped to bring other suits against large employers who allegedly relegate women or minorities to lower-paying jobs.
Disappointed by the ruling, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) reacted to the judgment, saying it is a blow not only to the women who brought the suit but also “to the millions of women across the country facing workplace discrimination every day.”
“This decision is about fairness, about the world’s largest private employer paying over a million women less than their male counterparts – and while it is certainly a setback, we will continue fighting.”
DeLauro added that she plans to “work to develop legislation that will protect the rights of class-action lawsuits like these.”
This is an epic decision by the Supreme Court, quite possibly the most impactful on the discrimination front. It essentially disassembles employment discrimination class action lawsuits while keeping very much in place legitimate individual claims, or classes where specific commonalities of discrimination took place.
While concurring that the lawsuit did not meet the standard for class action cases, Justice Ruth Ginsburg also offered a dissenting opinion, saying women fill 70 percent of hourly jobs in Wal-Mart’s stores but make up only 33 percent of management employees.