Supreme Court Rules for Wal-Mart, Against Complainants in Sex Discrimination Case

The SCOTUS has ruled unanimously that a sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart cannot proceed as a class-action lawsuit -- limiting the claims of up to 1.6 million women saying that discrimination is rampant in the company. The New York Times reports that with the ruling, "the handful of women who brought the lawsuit may pursue their claims on their own, with much less money at stake and less pressure on Wal-Mart to settle." But it also means the biggest, most potentially costly sex discrimination lawsuit ever has been curtailed to just a handful of complainants -- and the claims that women were routinely paid less than men at the company are squashed.

This is a win for big business, make no mistake. CNN:

The high-profile case– perhaps the most closely watched of the high court's term– is among the most important dealing with corporate versus worker rights that the justices have ever heard, and could eventually impact nearly every private employer, large and small.

The SCOTUS ruling reverses a decision made by San Francisco's 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and was handed down unanimously. Another aspect of the case, though, was split 5-4, and could set even more roadblocks for employees looking to file class-action lawsuits against corporate employers. AP:

Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion for the court's conservative majority said there needs to be common elements tying together "literally millions of employment decisions at once."

But Scalia said that in the lawsuit against the nation's largest private employer, "That is entirely absent here."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court's four liberal justices, said there was more than enough uniting the claims. "Wal-Mart's delegation of discretion over pay and promotions is a policy uniform throughout all stores," Ginsburg said. Business interests lined up with Wal-Mart while civil rights, women's and consumer groups have sided with the women plaintiffs.

Both sides have painted the case as extremely consequential. The business community has said that a ruling for the women would lead to a flood of class-action lawsuits based on vague evidence. Supporters of the women feared that a decision in favor of Wal-Mart could remove a valuable weapon for fighting all sorts of discrimination.

The National Women's Law Centeris planning solidarity rallies for the women of Wal-Mart starting tomorrow in New York, DC, Boston, San Francisco and Philadelphia. To learn more and to join a rally in your city, go here.

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at June 20, 2011, 5:32am

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018