Women Lose Wal-Mart Discrimination Case

U.S. Supreme Court building
U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow women who work for Wal-Mart to go ahead with a massive sex discrimination lawsuit.  The much-anticipated class action decision began as a California case that could have covered 1.6 million women.  Wal-Mart faced the potential of billions of dollars in damages.

The decision brought a sharp split again, 5-4 vote with conservatives in the majority, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing the opinion.  On the other side was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  She was joined by the other two women on the court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as well as Justice Stephen Breyer.  It was Justice Anthony Kennedy who provided the swing for the conservative majority.

Scalia said the workers failed to provide proof of a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.  It is important to point out, the issue for the court was whether to grant class action status to the case.  The trial and proof of the issues had not yet been held.  Something Ginsberg pointed out.

She wrote that the majority “disqualifies the class from the starting gate.”

The suit began in 2001 with roughly 1.6 million current and former women employees of Wal-Mart alleging local supervisors discriminated against them in pay and promotions.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer with its discount stores and Sam’s Clubs outlets.  They are divided into 41 regions with 80 to 85 stores in each.  Pay and promotion decisions are generally left to local managers’ discretion.  This is where the majority found the problem in approving a nationwide class.  The court said they could not find common policy at the top that would allow so many women to bring the same claims successfully.

The case was brought by Betty Dukes who began working at the Pittsburgh, California Wal-Mart in 1994.  She began as a cashier but later sought and received a promotion to customer service manager.  She was later demoted to cashier and greeter but claims male greeters were paid more than she is.

Another plaintiff, Christine Kwapnoski, worked at Sam’s Club and claimed her male manager yelled at her frequently and screamed at female employees, but not at men.  He also allegedly told her to “doll up” to wear makeup and dress better.

The high court’s ruling overturns the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

 Case:  Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, No. 10-277

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