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The Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination Supreme Court Ruling: Analysis From Around the Web

As AlterNet reported yesterday, the Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a massive sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart cannot proceed as a class-action lawsuit. Some 1.6 million women had signed on for the suit against the big box retailer, claiming that Wal-Mart engaged in rampant discrimination against female employees. But the Supreme Court ruling means that Walmart v. Dukes, which could have been the biggest sex-discrimination suit in history, will now have just a handful of complainants.

Jezebel's Irin Carmon discusses the impact of the ruling:

[T]he women have lost the benefits that come with suing as a class. As Fatima Goss-Graves, the National Women's Law Center's Vice President for Education and Employment pointed out in a conference call yesterday, suing as a discriminated class means that women who didn't have the specific information about how and why they were paid less or not promoted won't have the opportunity to be led by the more egregious or blatant cases — the ones that are out front. The scale of class action lawsuits also helps diffuse the retaliation that these women may fear, as well as the significant legal and time costs for women who are, after all, low-wage workers seeking ultimately small amounts of money in back pay....

As such, the decision will have significant ramifications for any plaintiffs seeking class action status in cases against large corporations. It's no coincidence that 20 very large companies filed in support of Wal-Mart in this case.

At the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg elaborates on how the ruling will not only affect Wal-Mart's female employees and writes that "[i]ronically, the wide range of Walmart’s alleged discrimination, coming from lots of managers in lots of places, became the reason the company was let off the hook." Or as Dahlia Lithwick put it in a piece for Slate, "in the court's eyes, sex discrimination is simply too pervasive to be a problem."

Feminist blogger Echidne of the Snakes discusses the right-wing justices' class problem:

I expected a five Justice decision that would make class actions lawsuits more difficult. After all, that's what the Republican Justices are there for: to take care of the firms and the people with money and to make their lives easier. That class action suits might be one of the few ways that poor people could seek justice in discrimination cases does not matter to them. That not having to face class action lawsuits makes life more comfortable for firms does matter to them.

What I did not expect was the extremely open bias of the five Republican men, making decisions about the lives of poor women, essentially.

Meanwhile, here's an interesting and under-reported element of this story, via the Corporate Justice Blog:

Much less reported is the fact that Wal-Mart was represented by Eugene Scalia's law firm, and Eugene Scalia represented Wal-Mart in the past. A Wal-Mart watch group circulated a petition seeking Justice Scalia's recusal. It is hard for me personally to imagine objectivity in a case where my daughter's firm was representing a litigant. Apparently, however, the Supreme Court disagrees. A bill in Congress may alter this outcome.

In the meantime, as I mentioned in my last blog, Eugene Scalia represents the Business Roundtable in litigation against the SEC concerning the SEC's rules on shareholder proxy access to nominate directors of publicly held firms. Will Justice Scalia recuse himself from this litigation? That would seem appropriate.

Indeed it would.

Finally, here's a video from the Rosenberg Foundation featuring information about the case as well as interviews with some of the women and attorneys involved:

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at June 21, 2011, 6:14am

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