The United States Supreme Court has unanimously rejected a sex discrimination suit against Wal-Mart on behalf of 1.6 million female employees; the lawsuit attempted to argue the retail giant “purposefully and systematically” discriminated on gender when it came to considering compensation for its employees. The high Court ruled that the women failed to prove that Wal-Mart had a nationwide policy that led to gender discrimination.
The lawsuits began in 2001; each not only alleged that Wal-Mart paid female workers less than male workers, but also alleged that women were afforded fewer opportunities for promotion. More than 100 employees filed sworn statements saying they were paid less and given fewer opportunities for promotion than male colleagues. Wal-Mart consistently denied the claims.
The New York Times got it right when it wrote, “Whether Wal-Mart engages in pervasive sex discrimination is an accusation, not an established fact. But the Supreme Court should have allowed the company’s female employees the opportunity to join together to make their case.” Now there will be less pressure on Wal-Mart to resolve these as individual cases.
The court decision, a victory for corporate interests and a defeat for woman’s rights, will, more than likely, make filing future such class-action lawsuits more difficult. The ruling is a blow to class action litigation because it will, very likely, make class certification more difficult. How does an individual plaintiff, with a minor wage loss claim, find an attorney to handle an under $10,000 wage loss claim? And, if she does, the “tort reform crowd” will scream “frivolous lawsuit” far and wide. Class action lawsuits, whether you like or dislike the concept, make it easier and more cost-efficient for people with small claims to pursue them in the context of merging them into one significantly larger claim.
Although Wal-Mart is not completely off the hook (individual actions may still be pursued), it is a very powerful, multi-billion dollar company. Individual, small-case, plaintiffs will have to take on this corporate Goliath with only one attorney and a contingency fee contract as leverage. In contrast, the class action potential was for millions, if not billions in total compensation; this is a huge turn-about in leverage. Wal-Mart’s power, created by this decision, to “delay, deny confuse and refuse” may crush these claims, one by one, into oblivion. Time will tell, but this was not a good day for justice in America.
The fight continues! In support of women’s rights, Democrats Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) reintroduced the Equal Rights Amendment. If the Amendment passes, the U.S. Constitution will explicitly ban gender discrimination. “The Wal-Mart case is a classic example of how far attitudes must still come," said Maloney.
Remember that the Supreme Court has not given Wal-Mart a free pass to discriminate. If you were a member of the class action suit, you may be able to pursue your claim on an individual basis, but it is important that you act quickly to protect your rights.
Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. The series features super-trial lawyer Zachary Blake handling "ripped from the headlines" legal and political issues of the day. The series currently consists of Betrayal of Faith, Betrayal of Justice, Betrayal in Blue, Betrayal in Black, and Betrayal High, with a sixth Zachary Blake novel due out later this year. To learn more about these topical social justice legal thrillers. please visit markmbello.com. Mark is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.