Wal-Mart case will impact future employment class actions

On Behalf of | Apr 8, 2011 | Discrimination

As discussed in previous posts, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week regarding a giant class-action sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart. The Supreme Court will decide whether the lawsuit can move forward as a class action. The sex discrimination lawsuit was brought by six women on behalf of all female employees currently or formerly employed by Wal-Mart since 1998. This means that the lawsuit could end up representing the claims of one million workers. This would be the biggest class-action lawsuit claiming discrimination in employment ever brought against a private employer.

The Supreme Court justices are looking at both laws and standards around class-actions as well as federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. According to Bloomberg News, the justices seemed to split along gender lines in their perspectives on the case while listening to arguments. Ginsburg asked whether it wasn’t an obligation to stop discrimination if a company saw it at work. Kennedy was more skeptical and said he heard the plaintiffs’ attorneys contradict themselves about whether the corporate culture did or did not know about or encourage any discrimination by regional managers.

Wal-Mart claimed in arguments that it would be impossible to defend a class-action lawsuit that represented women across so many different stores and regions. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that a corporate culture was in place that knew sex discrimination was happening but did nothing to stop it, and instead allowed it by giving too much discretion to regional managers in hiring and promotion decisions.

If the plaintiffs are allowed to proceed with their class action, it could lead to more employment lawsuits to be brought against corporations. If Wal-Mart wins, it would harm efforts to change corporations with discriminatory employment practices ingrained in their culture.


High court appears to favor Wal-Mart in gender-bias case (Bloomberg News)


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