20 June 2011

In Wal-Mart wage discrimination case, SCOTUS sides with the big corporation

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the mega-corporation Wal-Mart, saying that a class-action wage discrimination lawsuit, which could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of past and present female employees, could not move forward as a class action.

In the suit, Wal-Mart was accused of a pattern of paying women less and giving them fewer promotions. The evidence of this was, in my opinion, overwhelming. And now it looks like they'll get away with it.

It's a complicated case, dealing with legal criteria under which parties may or may not pursue a class action suit. I am not a lawyer, but in skimming the decision, it appears that the Court decided that the legal criteria were not met. So the decision was based on a technicality, not on the root issue at hand.

A big part of the decision regards the defense that pay raises and promotions are granted subjectively by individual Wal-Mart managers across the company, not though any discriminatory policy at the corporate level. So it appears that wage discrimination cases against Wal-Mart will have to be brought individually, one by one, or where a small group of women can point to the same manager. In other words, ladies, you're on your own.

Justice Scalia wrote the opinion in the case, with Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito joining (predictably).

Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, joined as to parts I and III of the decision, but not part II.

Read the full opinion of the Court + Ginsburg's partial dissent (PDF)

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