Over a million women cannot sue Walmart as a class in a class-action lawsuit for sexual discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled today. The the womens’ class-action lawsuit, the largest in history, comprised past and present Walmart employees who said they were systematically oppressed by the company, paid less and denied promotions at stores throughout the country. The New York Times reports the court felt the lawsuit was filed improperly regarding class action rules.
So what will this decision mean for women?Suing for gender discrimination on a case-by-case basis may be the more successful tactic in the future, as Walmart argued that the female employees had no case for a class-action lawsuit because there were too many variances in pay/promotion/etc. from its 3,400 stores. According to the majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the women could not provide “a common answer to the crucial question why was I disfavored.” To that end, CNN reports that the ruling is a victory for the business community regarding class-action lawsuits and — to read between the lines a bit — what they can get away with.
The Supreme Court’s decision surprises me. It seems to me that the “common answer to the crucial question [of] why was I disfavored” is clearly their gender and I thought the plaintiffs could easily make a case for that. As I wrote back in March, lawyers for Walmart and Sam’s Club warned Walmart Stores Inc. back in 1995 that a sexual discrimination lawsuit would be on the horizon, when it found men earned 19 percent more than women in some positions and were five-and-a-half times more likely to be promoted.
The Supreme Court only ruled on whether the women could sue as a class, not whether Walmart actually discriminated against women. That battle still remains to be fought and here’s hoping it is.