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Supreme Court Rules Women of Wal-Mart Are Not a Class


Toledo NOW, with several area unions and activist organizations, organized a 
protest to advocate against Wal-Mart's 
discriminatory work practices.

CREDIT: Flickr / Brave New Films

The U.S. Supreme Court decided last week that the female employees of Wal-Mart will not be allowed to bring a class action against Wal-Mart for discriminatory practices because they do not actually constitute a class. Had the case been granted class action status, it would have been the largest class action lawsuit in history, representing up to 1.5 million women and Wal-Mart would have had to face billions of dollars in damages.

There is a lot of data (some of it dating from as far back 1998) that makes it pretty clear that Wal-Mart is discriminating against women. Women in hourly and salaried jobs make less money than men; are disproportionately in un-salaried jobs; dominate the lowest paying, lowest ranked jobs and a smaller percentage of the workforce the further you go up the pay/rank hierarchy, even though these women have, on average, worked at Wal-Mart longer than their male peers. But "because respondents provide no convincing proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy, we have concluded that they have not established the existence of any common question," said Justice Antonin Scalia in his majority opinion.

So because Wal-Mart doesn’t actually have a written, stated policy that specifies that women should be passed over for promotions and paid less than men, Justice Scalia thinks it must not actually be happening systematically, despite the data proving otherwise.

The Supreme Court decision might have an even further reach than Wal-Mart; it has implications for Costco, Goldman-Sachs & Co., Toshiba America Inc., and Cigna Healthcare Inc.—all of them are also facing class action lawsuits from their female employees who are alleging they were discriminated against. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the decision and argued that because of decisions like this Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would reduce disparities in the wages of men and women. "Today's ruling underscores the need to act boldly and strongly on behalf of women's rights," Pelosi said.

“The Wal-Mart decision is a huge blow to anyone who believes in the law's power to remedy deep, widespread, pernicious discrimination,” says Bridget J. Crawford, a professor of law at Pace University. “The majority of the Supreme Court, in effect, said that too many women claimed discrimination and so their claims could not be consolidated.”

She says Wal-Mart is “putting on the ultimate corporate spin,” because of a recent press release that reads, “Every female associate and every customer can feel even better about the company as a result of today’s decision.”

“Everyone should feel better because Wal-mart's discrimination was so pervasive?” Crawford satys. “If the Supreme Court won't take a stand, then it is up to consumers to tell Wal-mart what they think of its employment practices. Keep that in mind when doing back-to-school shopping this year.”

Some of the employees involved in this lawsuit might now bring individual lawsuits against Wal-Mart, although they would stand to win much less. Two of the named plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case have stated they will continue their fight against the corporation.

Dahlia Grossman-Heinze is a reporter-blogger for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @salvadordahlia.

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