Siding with the retail giant Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court ruled that the nation’s largest job discrimination lawsuit cannot move forward as a class-action. It’s a crushing defeat for civil rights advocates and firmly grounds the Roberts Court as one of the most corporate-friendly courts in our nation’s history.
Make no mistake about it, the ramifications of the decision are enormous. The plaintiffs in the case have accused Wal-Mart of systematically discriminating against women in hiring, pay and promotions. Wal-Mart did not defeat the substance of the claims–that is, it is still an open question as to whether or not the discrimination occurred. Rather, Wal-Mart defeated the move to have the millions of potential victims bind their claims together against the retailer.
So where does this leave us?
The plaintiffs in the case lost because the Roberts Court did not feel there was enough in common with each of the plaintiffs and their claims to meet the requirements under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to warrant class action status. That means each individual plaintiff will now have to move forward individually with their claims against Wal-Mart. This is an expensive proposition for an hourly employee, particularly when, segregated out, each individual claim may amount to a small amount in damages for each individual plaintiff. Those women will now have to weigh whether the time and expense of pursuing these claims is worth it and will have to find an attorney willing to take on the retail giant for little if any potential reward.
The decision also sends a not-so-subtle nod to massive employers like Wal-Mart that systematic discrimination will not be punished so long as that employer can sufficiently diffuse its policies under the guise of “managerial discretion”. It also takes away the threat of large damages claims via the class action which is the only real mode of justice lower wage workers have to challenge unlawful discriminatory actions.
In response to the ruling, Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center issued the following statement:
“Today, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court issued a devastating decision undoing the rights of millions of women across the country to come together and hold their employers accountable for their discriminatory practices. The Court has told employers that they can rest easy, knowing that the bigger and more powerful they are, the less likely their employees will be able to join together to secure their rights. The women at Wal-Mart—together with women everywhere—will now face a far steeper road to challenge and correct pay and other forms of discrimination in the workplace.”
For more on coverage of the decision, click here.
photo courtesy of monochrome via Flickr