Supreme Court Tosses Out Walmart Discrimination Case

Discussion
Jun 21, 2011

A Supreme Court ruling may prove the end of class action suits as we have come to know them and businesses, Walmart in particular, couldn’t be happier.

In a unanimous vote yesterday, justices of the nation’s highest court blocked a sex discrimination case brought by up to 1.5 million women against the world’s largest retailer. The court concluded the case known as Dukes v. Walmart should never have been granted class action status by a California court under federal law.

The decision was huge for Walmart because a judgment against the company could have cost it billions. Now, individual plaintiffs will have to sue the chain on their own. This will likely mean that many who would have been plaintiffs in the class action will not sue on their own faced with the costs and prospects of going up against a business and legal department the size of Walmart’s.

In a separate vote, justices were split by a 5-4 margin, on whether the women bringing the suit had proven that there were enough common practices across the country at Walmart to demonstrate a corporate pattern of discrimination. The plaintiffs had tried to prove common practices at the company using statistical data, but five justices (Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas) could not reconcile clear corporate policies prohibiting discrimination and individual acts of discrimination by managers even if they were allegedly widespread.

Gisel Ruiz, executive vice president, people, Walmart U.S., said in a statement following the decision, "Clearly today’s ruling in the Dukes case has important legal implications but just as important, it pulls the rug out from under the accusations made against Walmart over the last 10 years. Every female associate and every customer can feel even better about the company as a result of today’s decision."

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15 Comments on "Supreme Court Tosses Out Walmart Discrimination Case"


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David Livingston
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Discrimination laws have gotten out of hand. Businesses should be free, without government interference, to discriminate. Obviously if Walmart was such a horrible employer people would opt not to work for them. But they still do, therefore Walmart must not be all that bad a place to work. If a business discriminated against me, I’d opt not to work for them.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Walmart is very fortunate about the outcome of the class action suit brought by up to 1.5 million women. However, Walmart still needs to be cognizant about their image on the topic of women. Even the positive outcome of this lawsuit can still have poor results for Walmart because the news of the event has brought back attention to the matter.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
Hmm…let’s see…the nine smartest jurists in the United States can’t figure what what one million plus women could possibly have in common… yeah…that is a tough one. First of all this is hardly the end of class action suits. It simply is the case that the Roberts’ Court has continued its tradition of looking at corporations as though they were individuals and then applying its version of the rule of law to a case it sees as between two individuals or — in this case — an “individual” and a class. Since it’s difficult to understand how an individual could possibly discriminate against a million plus other individuals, the Court’s decision should have come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to its recent rulings. But, since corporations clearly aren’t, in reality, individuals I assume at some point in the future all these decisions (Walmart, campaign contributions, et. al.) will probably be set aside by another Court. That said, the ruling basically said that this specific “class” was too large — not… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Just a note to my fellow contributors.

Businesses in the United States aren’t — and shouldn’t be — free to discriminate on the basis of gender, race, age, religion, etc. because we have this niggling little thing called a Constitution that was created — and subsequently amended — to protect people against pattern discrimination.

I suppose, of course, using the same “logic” of, “If they don’t like it they don’t have to work there” one could argue that if corporations don’t like doing business in a Constitutional democracy that, for all its flaws, is still the envy of the world, they are free to set up shop in countries whose governments and — more importantly — citizens don’t have problems with pattern discrimination although, as we see every day, those are getting a bit harder to find.

Mike Blackburn
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I have to applaud Mr. Mathews’ response to this issue. Corporate discrimination is one area where our government should be meddling, in order to protect the rights of the individual.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
The ruling is not on substance or merits. It’s a ruling on process ‘in its current form’. Interpretation as a ‘win’ on either side of the issue is simply a misinterpretation of the reality of the ruling. Sure, you could interpret it as a minor win for Walmart. That would be however, ignoring the costs. The decision reflected that the cases (1.5 million) or instances were too dissimilar to be combined to one. That’s it. It’s not a decision that ends class action. It’s not a decision that decided the merits of the whole or the parts. Walmart should be extremely concerned as I’m sure they are as a result. Though they fought and would fight any legal action–ethically right or not–they could end up fighting each and every one on its own. Which is more costly? This isn’t an end. This isn’t a conclusion on the merits of any one of the specific plaintiffs. It simply says that they can’t band together in this case–all of them–in one class action. It doesn’t say that… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The court has spoken for the people and the country. I don’t think corporations should discriminate but they should still have the freedom to decide who they will hire, fire and what they will pay them. The laws of supply and demand should determine wages. As an employer I would not want to hire anyone who would be disloyal and file a lawsuit. Nobody wants employees that make them look bad, are complainers, and whiners. I don’t know of anyone who sued their way up the corporate ladder. If someone wants a raise and promotion, taking your employer to court isn’t the best way to go about it. Perhaps choosing not to work for a company that has a high turnover labor model would be a good start.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Here, here, Ryan, on both of your comments!!

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

When it’s unanimous, it’s hard to argue.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 10 months ago

Let’s be clear, this is not about Walmart and it’s not about workplace discrimination. Instead, it’s about the definition of a class for purposes of damages litigation. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a more tightly controlled definition of alleged damages. In the Walmart case, what was the class? Was it a group of women with legitimate claims, or was it everyone the class action attorneys could round up? Our Supreme Court ruled it was the latter, and thus nullified the claim.

This ruling may mean the end of class-action-settlement-lawyers like John Edwards and of class action ads on FoxNews (currently trolling for alleged victims of Mesothelioma and Zoloft). Wouldn’t that be great? While not being opposed to class actions, I’ve got to salute our Supreme Court on this decision. Additionally, this ruling will inevitably influence tort reform in medical claims against healthcare providers; a key, lacking ingredient in Obamacare.

Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Not knowing all the complexities involved yet, I guess I would just have to ask–a million and a half women united behind one cause were wrong? Really? Ok, time to dig into it and find out more about what happened.

Dennis Serbu
Guest
Dennis Serbu
9 years 10 months ago

Scanner nailed it. Having said that, the underlying issue of discrimination still has me puzzled. Walmart is one of the least discriminatory companies out there. I shop their stores and I have been in their corporate offices. If you perform, you get promoted. They also hire people that most of us would not and give them at least entry level opportunity to succeed. And many have. Moving from clerk to store director, without prejudice to race or gender.

Walmart is big. Mistakes have been made and will continue to be made at scale. I see far more good than bad and applaud them for giving the potentially unemployable a place to work.

Jerome Schindler
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

In most of the class action cases the only real winners are the lawyers.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 10 months ago
The court opinion on the “Commonality Rule” was a decisive 8 to 0–there was no common class of plaintiffs in this 10 year fiasco. Trial lawyers were angling for a huge payday, and failed to adequately represent their clients. Scalia represented the facts with the common sense opinion of: “Plaintiffs admit that no expressed corporate policy against women exists.” “Respondents’ attempt to show (discrimination) by means of statistical and anecdotal evidence falls well short.” “In a company of Walmart’s size and geographic scope, it is unlikely that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction.” Ginsburg (joined by Breyer, Sotamayor, and Kagan), all agreed that the “Class in this case, I agree with the court, should not have been certified of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2). The common sense that the rest of us have should lead us to the view that, with over a one million employees (1.5 million were lumped into the class), Walmart needs to allow discretion at the local supervisory level in the area of employee promotions.… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

My initial reaction was “there goes the Republicourt again,” and the unanimity surprised me (not that I necessarily disagreed with the decision); upon actually reading the details today, I’m drifting back to my earlier opinion. But cases like this always approach the impossible: punishing the “guilty” 100% of the time, while leaving the “innocent” untouched…and of course doing it in a swift, certain and cost effective manner….no, make that (fully) impossible.

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