Supreme Court rules in Wal-Mart's favor: How the sides are reacting
A split Supreme Court ruled against 1.5 million women employees who brought a massive class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart. After the ruling, both sides weighed in.
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Critics denounced it as a step backward in the cause for women’s rights that will make it harder for victims of discrimination to band together to seek justice in the courts.
Supporters praised the action as a clear affirmation of established rules for class-action lawsuits that will help protect large employers from legal tactics designed to win lucrative settlements.
The high court ruled 5 to 4 to dismiss a class action suit filed on behalf of 1.5 million female employees who charged they were subject to unequal pay and promotion practices at the retail giant. The suit potentially sought back pay and other damages totaling in the billions of dollars.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision sets back equality for women and for all Americans in the workplace and in our society,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement from Congress. “It will make it more difficult for workers to come together to fight claims of gender discrimination.”
“This is another example of the Supreme Court siding with large corporations to limit access to the courts for individuals seeking justice,” said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“Those without means to hire an attorney or pursue a claim rely on class-action lawsuits to level the playing field and change the policies and practices of elite corporations,” he said. “The court’s sharply divided ruling has made it more difficult for these individuals.”
Closing a legal 'loophole'?
In dismissing the Wal-Mart class action, the majority justices determined that the 1.5 million members of the suing class lacked enough in common to justify conducting the litigation as a single, huge class-action lawsuit rather than as smaller, more focused, class actions, or individual suits.
“This decision makes it difficult for employees to use class actions for employment-discrimination claims unless they can point to a company-wide discriminatory policy,” Howard Erichson, a professor at Fordham Law School, said in a statement.
Other analysts said the decision closes a loophole that some plaintiffs' lawyers were exploiting to bypass tough restrictions on class-action litigation.
“Many class-action lawyers had smuggled damages class actions into court through the lenient standards for injunctive class actions,” said Vanderbilt Law Professor Brian Fitzpatrick in a statement. “The opinion today closes this loophole.”
“Courts will now have more leeway to refuse to certify class actions when they believe at the outset of the case that the case is unlikely to succeed,” he said.
“The conservative majority thought the evidence was very skimpy in this case, and this quite explicitly colored its view of whether the women shared a common question,” said Professor Fitzpatrick.
The judges' opinions
In the majority decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that there was no evidence that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination that affected all 1.5 million female workers. Instead, he said, Wal-Mart’s stated policy required equal employment opportunity.
The only evidence a discriminatory policy was the testimony of a sociologist who said Wal-Mart maintained a strong corporate culture that was vulnerable to gender bias, Justice Scalia said.