The largest sex-discrimination lawsuit in history has been dismissed by the US supreme court which ruled for Wal-mart Stores Inc (photo) against plaintiffs who said they were less paid because they were women.
Therefore the court overturned a decision that gave class-action status for 1.5 million female employees seeking billions of dollars.
Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer and the largest private US employer.
The court accepted the company’s main argument that the female employees worked in different jobs, at 3,400 different stores across the country and with different supervisors, and therefore they do not have enough in common for a class action.
But the court did not decide on the merits of the sex-discrimination allegations which are at the heart of the case, it only decided if the 10-year-old lawsuit can proceed to trial as a group in a class-action suit.
The suit had previously been allowed to proceed as a class-action by two lower courts, but Wal-Mart appealed to the Supreme Court, whose ruling overturned the others.
The women seeking lost pay and punitive damages were led by six named plaintiffs, arguing that the company paid female employees less and passed them over for promotion.
They relied on statistical evidence about pay disparities between the two genders and anecdotal reports of individual cases of discrimination.
But according to the court the plaintiffs could not show common “questions of law or fact” that held for all the women in the proposed class, which is any woman who has worked for one of more than 3,400 Wal-Mart stores in the US since December 1998.
“Here, [the group of women employees] wish to sue about literally millions of employment decisions at once,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.
“Without some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members’ claims for relief will produce a common answer to the crucial question ‘why was I disfavored.’“
Justice Antonin Scalia noted that Wal-Mart’s written policy did not allow gender discrimination. He also said that the company did not have any testing procedure or evaluation method that could be shown to be biased.
Although the court’s four liberal justices agreed that the Wal-Mart case did not merit a class-action, they said it would have taken less narrow view of the requirements for a class-action suit over back pay.
The dissent was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who noted that 70% of positions paid by the hour in the retailers’ stores are women, but that women hold only 33% of management roles.
“The plaintiffs’ evidence, including class members’ tales of their own experiences, suggests that gender bias suffused Wal-Mart’s company culture,” Ms Ginsburg wrote.