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After years of litigation, a class-action discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has been rejected by the Supreme Court. Over the last several years, Wal-Mart has been pushed into the spotlight by a series of lawsuits by disgruntled employees. This most recent discrimination case grew from a few disgruntled employees to one of the largest class-action lawsuits in recent memory. Three Wal-Mart associates have come together to try to sue Wal-Mart in a class-action lawsuit concerning discrimination against women in management positions.
The case reached all the way to the Supreme Court before all nine supreme justices sided with Wal-Mart’s contention that each discrimination case is unique to the store in which is allegedly occurred and should be sought by the individual for any damages due.
This ruling is a big break for Wal-Mart, as they could have ended up paying billions of dollars to the 1.5 million female employees that have worked at the 4,300 Wal-Mart stores across the country since 1998. Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. and Theane Evangelis Kapur, the two main defense lawyers for Wal-Mart, have pointed out that there are numerous success stories of women who started out in entry-level positions and were promoted to various levels of management. Their hiring and promotion policy also specifically prohibits discrimination when determining a candidate for any position, including management.
Betty Dukes, one of the three women who began this lawsuit, argues that during her employment at Wal-Mart she witnessed male associates get promoted, while female associates with similar qualifications were passed up. In her own case, she spoke with upper management numerous times concerning her desire to be promoted, but to this day, she has still not been promoted. She was even demoted after she got change from a register while on the clock.
Dukes felt singled out by this demotion because other associates had done this before, and had never gotten in trouble. She felt that this discrimination was based on her gender, and that other women who work at Wal-Mart had experienced this discrimination as well. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled these discrimination cases must be taken up individually, if Dukes chooses to continue her case, she will have to start all over again and bring action against the specific Wal-Mart where she was employed.
Despite their strong equal opportunity policy, Wal-Mart’s hiring and promotion process is based on the discretion of the management in that particular store. Those with the responsibility of assessing candidates for different positions in their store are instructed to “not tolerate discrimination in employment, employment-related decisions, or in business dealings on the basis of race, color, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, ethnicity, national origin, veteran status, marital status, pregnancy, or any other legally protected status”
In the case of the defendants, they may or may not have been discriminated against.
Although management is supposed to remain unbiased, that does not stop some individuals from breaking from policy and hiring someone based on personal preference instead of for that person’s individual qualifications. Boutrous and Evangelis Kapur have stated that Wal-Mart is not opposed to the three defendants taking their complaints against the particular stores in which the discrimination supposedly occurred. If this discrimination did happen, then the members of management responsible should be reprimanded for not following company policy and they are perfectly justified in seeking compensation.
This chapter of the case is closed, but Wal-Mart may have only opened itself to a large number of small claims by all of the individuals working at Wal-Mart that sided with Betty Dukes. In any case, this ruling will have an important impact on what constitutes a class-action lawsuit, and whether or not big businesses really can be held accountable for their actions.
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