Supreme Court Rules For Wal-Mart in Sex Discrimination Case

Gender discrimination on the job continues to be an issue that affects women across the country.  Although women have made great strides in achieving workplace equality, wage discrimination still exists.

We reported in this blog recently on the struggle of former female Wal-Mart workers to form a massive class action law suit against the retailer.  The workers claimed sex bias in management and hiring decisions on an institutional scale, and as such, sought the novel strategy of forming a class based on gender.  The backers of the suit argued that consolidation on this novel scale was the only effective way to confront such a large, powerful corporation as Wal-Mart.  Woman’s Rights activists were hopeful that this suit was a first step to redressing historic wrongs directed toward women in the workplace that continue to effect female workers’ wages and chances of promotion.

This morning, the Supreme Court put a halt to this opportunity to bring a powerful class action suit against the retailer.

The court ruled unanimously that the up to 1.6 million women could not form a class action against Wal-Mart, effectively reversing a lower court decision that said the class could move forward.  The women do have the option to move forward with individual lawsuits.  However, singular suits brought individually have the flavor of David vs. Goliath.  After all, the one of the points of a class action is to leverage group power against large, well-funded institutions that would normally be immune to such claims.

The unanimous decision cited Wal-Mart’s argument that the female employees performed different jobs in thousands of stores with many different supervisors did not have enough in common to form a cohesive class.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, noting “Respondents wish to sue for millions of employment decisions at once. Without some glue holding together the alleged reasons for those decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination question.”

Further, the Court was skeptical of the expert testimony given on behalf of the wronged workers.  Scalia asserted, “Respondents’ only evidence of a general discrimination policy was a sociologist’s analysis asserting that Wal-Mart’s corporate culture made it vulnerable to gender bias. But because he could not estimate what percent of Wal-Mart employment decisions might be determined by stereotypical thinking, his testimony was worlds away from ‘significant proof’ that Wal-Mart ‘operated under a general policy of discrimination.’ ”

Labor Rights activists count this ruling as a defeat in the battle against what they view as continued and systematic gender discrimination in many major corporations across the country.  Observers note the women can continue their suit on an individual basis and that they should not be cowed by this move.

Despite this ruling, workers who believe they have been victim of employment discrimination should not hesitate to contact an expert Washington Labor & Industries attorney who can advise them as to the strength of their claim.  Concerned workers should contact a Seattle L & I lawyer at Emery Reddy today.

Emery Reddy