A Walmart storefront that includes the company's up-to-date corporate logo.
Do female employees get a fair shake at Walmart? (Photo Credit: CC BY/Walmart/Flickr)

Reports indicate that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled unanimously in favor of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in a gender bias case. The Guardian reports that what would have been the “biggest sex discrimination case in history” with 1.6 million collective claims has been shot down by SCOTUS. Female Walmart employees may pursue individual suits against the company, but a class action pool will not be allowed.

Walmart lawsuit ‘too large for trial’

The sex discrimination class action filed nearly 10 years ago by Walmart employee Betty Dukes and five female co-workers claimed that female Walmart employees were routinely passed over for promotions and paid less than similar or lesser-qualified male employees in the same positions. Over a decade, the class action grew to approximately 1.6 million claimants, a number that was simply too large, said SCOTUS.

Dukes and company had already received the go-ahead from a lower court, which prompted Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to appeal to the highest court in the country. Estimates indicate that if the class action had been allowed to proceed, it would have cost the company billions of dollars and set a tremendous precedent for potential gender bias cases for scores of large U.S. corporations. According to the Guardian, Microsoft and General Electric were among the corporations that petitioned SCOTUS with concerns.

No common policy

SCOTUS ruled unanimously that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. displayed no common policy of sexual discrimination against women. Despite statistical evidence presented by the plaintiffs as to promotion and pay disparities, the court agreed that individual managers were responsible, rather than the corporation.

In his opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the plaintiffs’ claims were “too diverse,” encompassing “literally millions of employment decisions at once.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg offered an opinion that dissented somewhat from the majority as reflected by Scalia. She argued that in general, “Walmart’s delegation of discretion over pay and promotions is a policy uniform throughout all stores,” yet agreed that the class action’s scope was too wide.

Individual lawyers equals individual hassle

Legal expert Stuart Slotnick of New York law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney points out that the SCOTUS ruling will severely limit the amount of money individual claimants can conceivably obtain from the corporation. Perhaps most significantly, the corporation will not face as much pressure to settle. Smaller suits can, in theory, be whittled down by the company’s legal defense much more easily.

“Now each individual will have to find a lawyer to fight their case, and I would question whether most individuals will want to do that,” said Slotnick.

SCOTUS’ unanimous ruling for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.


Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jun/20/walmart-sex-discrimination-class-action-rejected

Politico: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0611/57343.html

Reason.com: http://reason.com/blog/2011/06/20/supreme-court-unanimously-reje

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