Supreme Court Blocks Class Action Sex Discrimination Suit

Today, the Supreme Court blocked a class action sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of women who work there.

As I predicted here, the court ruled that the lawsuit cannot proceed as a class action, reversing a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The lawsuit could have involved up to 1.6 million women, with Wal-Mart facing potentially billions of dollars in damages.

The case started in 2000, when a 54-year-old Wal-Mart worker in California named Betty Dukes filed a sex discrimination claim against her employer. Dukes claims that, despite six years of hard work and excellent performance reviews, she was denied the training she needed to advance to a higher, salaried position. Wal-Mart's position is that Dukes clashed with a female Wal-Mart supervisor and was disciplined for admittedly returning late from lunch breaks.

In June 2001, the lawsuit began in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The plaintiffs seek to represent 1.6 million women, including all those who work or have previously worked in a Wal-Mart store since December 26, 1998. In June 2004, the federal district judge, Martin Jenkins, ruled in favor of class certification under FRCP 23(b)(2). The Ninth Circuit affirmed the class certification. Wal-Mart appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Today's ruling from the Supreme Court means that each member of the class will need to obtain a lawyer to represent her and pursue her claim individually against the retailing behemoth.  Undoubtedly, many or most will be unable to do so and will therefore never get their day in Court.

 

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