Wal-Mart Wins Supreme Court Review of Huge Bias Suit against It

By Richey, Warren | The Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2010 | Go to article overview

Wal-Mart Wins Supreme Court Review of Huge Bias Suit against It


Richey, Warren, The Christian Science Monitor


The Supreme Court said Monday it will consider whether a class- action suit filed against Wal-Mart, representing 1.5 million former and current female employees, should be allowed to proceed.

The US Supreme Court agreed on Monday to examine whether a federal appeals court ruled correctly when it authorized a massive class-action lawsuit accusing Wal-Mart of discriminating against as many as 1.5 million female employees.

If allowed to proceed, the lawsuit would be the largest employment class action in history. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the US, with 3,400 stores nationwide.

At issue in the appeal is whether the process established by the lower courts to litigate the case as a single trial complies with limitations set out in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Under a class-action lawsuit, a small number of individuals are permitted to file a lawsuit that may affect a much larger number of individuals with similar claims. The idea is that the small group can accurately represent the larger "class" of victims because the entire class shares the same injury.

Lawyers for Wal-Mart argue that employment discrimination claims against a nationwide company do not fit with a one-size-fits-all approach. There are substantial differences from region to region, store to store, and supervisor to supervisor in how Wall-Mart employees are hired, promoted, or fired, they argue. Those differences make this case the wrong vehicle for a class-action lawsuit, they say.

"The class certified by the district court was estimated to include over 1.5 million former and current female Wal-Mart employees who held different jobs in different stores under the supervision of different managers," Theodore Boutrous wrote in his brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the company's appeal. "The majority decision [by the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals] conflicts with every pertinent decision of this court and many decisions of other circuits on numerous important, recurring issues in class-action litigation."

Mr. Boutrous said the Ninth Circuit decision has created a three- way split among the appeals courts on when and how to authorize class-action lawsuits.

The suit against Wal-Mart charges that women employed by the retail giant are paid less than men in comparable positions, despite higher performance ratings and greater seniority.

In addition, the suit charges that women receive fewer promotions to management positions than men and wait longer than men for promotions. …

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