Supreme Court Throws Out Class-Action Lawsuit Against Walmart

On Monday, the Supreme Court threw out the huge class-action sex discrimination lawsuit against corporate giant Walmart.

As previously reported on our blog, it was one of the biggest lawsuits in American history. Over 1,5 million former or current female employees wanted to sue Walmart because of sex discrimination in Walmart’s pay and promotion policies. The plaintiffs complained that women at Walmart are paid less than men in comparable positions despite greater seniority and higher performance ratings, and that women receive fewer promotions to in-store management positions than men do.

First, the Court had to answer the question whether or not the lawsuit satisfied the requirement of the class-action rules that “there are questions of law or fact common to the class” of female employees. The Court’s five more conservative Justices said no, thereby shutting down the lawsuit.

Consequently, the Court did not reach the question whether Walmart’s pay and promotion polices discriminate on the basis of sex. The Court merely ruled that the action could not proceed in its current form since the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that there is such a discriminatory policy at the 4,000 or so stores Walmart operates around the country.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a major victory for Walmart. Of course, every single woman can pursue her claim against Walmart individually. However, that course of action is much more complicated and expensive than joining a class action.

Business groups welcomed the Court’s decision because it forces plaintiffs in big, ambitious class actions against an employer to evidence a nationwide practice or policy that hurt the class. Consumer groups, on the other hand, strongly criticized the ruling as a striking blow to those who face discrimination in the workplace to be able to join together and hold companies, especially large companies, accountable for the full range of discrimination they may be responsible for.

We will keep you posted as the discussion about this decision will continue.

(c) Picture: Walmart

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Reinhard von Hennigs