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In a relatively non-shocking decision, the United States Supreme Court has sided with corporate giant Wal-Mart in a sex discrimination suit. The plaintiffs in the case were seeking to make the sexual discrimination lawsuit into a class-action, involving up to 1.6 million women. The decision has far-reaching implications for employee rights and big corporations.
The justices voted along party lines by a vote to 5-4,reversing an earlier decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The High Court said there were too many women in too many jobs at Wal-Mart to form into a class action suit. Wal-Mart could have faced billions of dollars in damages. The few women who brought the case are prepared to bring claims against the retail giant on their own. Of course, individual lawsuits will place much less pressure on Wal-Mart and involve less money. 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 Wal-Mart in Pittsburg, Calif.
In a statement, 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. “All I have to say is when I go back to work tomorrow, I’m going to let them know we are still fighting,” Kwapnoski.
Other advocates were also disappointed with the Supreme Court decision. Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said “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.”
The Supreme Court agreed with Wal-Mart’s argument that being forced to defend the treatment of female employees regardless of the jobs they hold or where they work is unfair. 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,” which he felt was absent in this case.
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.
Both sides have argued that the ruling could have severe consequences. The business community, who supported Wal-Mart, 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, including civil rights groups, feared that a decision in favor of Wal-Mart could remove a valuable weapon for fighting all sorts of discrimination.
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