Workers That Take on Wal-Mart Better Have a Smoking Gun

Supreme Court strikes down class action suit by women against the giant retailer.

Posted: 06/21/2011 01:39 PM EDT
Betty Dukes

Your grandmother, mother, aunt, niece, daughter, spouse or women friends may be among the Black, Hispanic, white and Asian-American plantiffs affected directly, on Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court slapped down a class action suit by at least 1.6 million of them that alleged gender discrimination by the giant retailer.

 

But your women friends and relatives may also be hit indirectly. As the High Court’s ruling may chill their efforts, at other companies, to organize a gender- or race-related class action suit.

 

Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 “organizations dedicated to advancing justice and democracy” says the decision is unsettling. She says “that the Wal-Mart workforce is one of the most diverse in the country. But now significant numbers of  women, including women of color, have been told by the U.S. Supreme Court that they cannot band together to stand up for their rights.”

 

A Wal-Mart press release 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."

 

Two of the named plaintiffs, Christine Kwapnoski and Betty Dukes, who is Black, vowed to continue their fight, even as they expressed disappointment about the ruling. "We still are determined to go forward to present our case in court. We believe we will prevail there," said Dukes.

 

The co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, Marcia D. Greenberger, expressed how pleased employers must be. "The court has told employers that they can rest easy knowing that the bigger and more powerful they are, the less likely their employees will be able to join together to secure their rights," she said.

 

The High Court judgment, in a 5-4 vote that displayed the conservative-liberal split among the justices, reversed a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The justices agreed that the class action could not move forward in its present form. The split decision stated that Wal-Mart employed so many women in so many posts that it was impossible to pull them all together in one class action. That opinion may make it more difficult for workers at companies to create similar class actions.

Betty Dukes (Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters)

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