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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“[The sociologist] could not, however, determine with any specificity how regularly stereotypes play a meaningful role in employment decisions,” Scalia wrote. “At his deposition … [the sociologist] conceded that he could not calculate whether 0.5 percent or 95 percent of the employment decisions at Wal-Mart might be determined by stereotyped thinking.”Skip to next paragraph
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Scalia said that standard was “world’s away from significant proof that Wal-Mart operated under a general policy of discrimination.”
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court should have upheld the lower court’s determination that the class action was justified. She said the company’s practice of granting local discretion in employment decisions could foster systemic discrimination.
“The practice of delegating to supervisors large discretion to make personnel decisions, uncontrolled by formal standards, has long been known to have the potential to produce disparate effects,” she wrote. “Managers, like all humankind, may be prey to biases of which they are unaware.”
Justice Ginsburg added: “The risk of discrimination is heightened when those managers are predominately of one sex, and are steeped in a corporate culture that perpetuates gender stereotypes.”
Women's rights groups call it a setback
Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families said she strongly agreed with Ginsburg’s dissent.
“Particularly now, when families rely more than ever on women’s earnings, women need fair pay and fair opportunities for advancement,” she said. “Today’s ruling sets a dangerous precedent that will make it easier for employers – especially large ones – to discriminate against their employees while, at the same time, making it harder for workers to come together to challenge it.”
Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice said the high court’s decision fits a pattern. “This is another in a long series of cases where the conservative majority has used a radical reformulation of the law to erect a wall of privilege and protection around big business,” she said.
Business groups applaud
The US Chamber of Commerce offered a different perspective.
“We applaud the Supreme Court for affirming that mega-class actions such as this one are completely inconsistent with federal law,” said Robin Conrad of the National Chamber Litigation Center.
She said the lower courts had “radically lowered the standard for certifying class actions, and opened the door to even more bet-the-business blockbuster class actions.”
Ms. Conrad said the ruling reinforced a fundamental principal of fairness. “Too often the class action device is twisted and abused to force businesses to choose between settling meritless lawsuits or potentially facing financial ruin,” she said. “Our economy would be better served if businesses could spend more resources creating jobs and fewer resources fighting frivolous litigation.”
Some analysts said the Wal-Mart lawsuit was an abuse of the class-action system. “The Supreme Court has said people cannot group together totally different legal claims into giant classes in order to intimidate businesses in settling through payoffs,” said Timothy Sandefur of the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation.
“By shooting down a costly and unjustified litigation threat, today’s ruling means lower prices for things we need, and more employment opportunities for all – especially women,” he said.