According to multiple reports, the Supreme Court has blocked a massive sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of female employees.
The justices all agreed that the lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. could not proceed as a class action in its current form, reversing a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. By a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the court said there were too many women in too many jobs at Wal-Mart to wrap into one lawsuit.
The lawsuit could have involved up to 1.6 million women, with Wal-Mart facing potentially billions of dollars in damages.
Now, the handful of women who brought the case may pursue their claims on their own, with much less money at stake and less pressure on Wal-Mart to settle. Two of the named plaintiffs, Christine Kwapnoski and Betty Dukes, attended the argument. Kwapnoski is an assistant manager at a Sam’s Club in Concord, Calif. Dukes is a greeter at the Walmart in Pittsburg, Calif.
In a statement reported on by ABC News, Wal-Mart said, “The court today unanimously rejected class certification and, as the majority made clear, the plaintiffs’ claims were worlds away from showing a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy.”
Dukes and Kwapnoski said they were disappointed in the ruling, but vowed to push ahead with their claims. Both women spoke on a conference call with reporters.
“We still are determined to go forward to present our case in court. We believe we will prevail there,” Dukes said to the news outlet.
“All I have to say is when I go back to work tomorrow, I’m going to let them know we are still fighting,” said Kwapnoski.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion for the court’s conservative majority said there need to be common elements tying together “literally millions of employment decisions at once.”
But Scalia said that in the lawsuit against the nation’s largest private employer, “That is entirely absent here.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court’s four liberal justices, said there was more than enough uniting the claims. “Wal-Mart’s delegation of discretion over pay and promotions is a policy uniform throughout all stores,” Ginsburg said.
Business interests lined up with Wal-Mart while civil rights, women’s and consumer groups have sided with the women plaintiffs.
Both sides have painted the case as extremely consequential. The business community has said that a ruling for the women would lead to a flood of class-action lawsuits based on vague evidence. Supporters of the women feared that a decision in favor of Wal-Mart could remove a valuable weapon for fighting all sorts of discrimination.