Wal-Mart Wins Supreme Court Ruling In Historic Sex Discrimination Suit

By Jenna Goudreau

Today the Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision of the Ninth Circuit, halting a mammoth sex discrimination suit against Wal-Mart from proceeding as a class action. The Wal-Mart v. Dukes case would have been the largest employment class-action suit in U.S. history, involving 1.5 million female employees of Wal-Mart.

The Court did not rule on the merits of the discrimination case, but held that Wal-Mart is entitled to individual determinations of its employees' eligibility for back-pay.

"The court has substantially raised the hurdles that workers have to surmount in order to bring broad cases," said Joseph Sellers, co-lead counsel with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, on a conference call immediately following the decision. Sellers said the women's cases would likely proceed on an individual basis or in smaller, more closely linked classes. "The consequences could be dire for Wal-Mart, as well as the workers, as this case will be splintered so that it may take longer to resolve. We are determined to proceed on behalf of these women."

It is a huge victory for Wal-Mart, which employs 2.1 million people in over 9,000 stores around the globe. "We are pleased with today's ruling and believe the Court made the right decision," said a statement from the company. "By reversing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the majority effectively ends this class action lawsuit."

"It's a really good day for big business," said Elise Bloom, co-head of Proskauer's Class/Collective Actions Group. Bloom confirmed that this case has been closely watched by many in the business community. The decision reveals that the affidavits of over a hundred women for a class of this size are not enough and that statistical analysis is too general to prove sweeping discrimination, she said.

"This case is not over," asserted Brad Seligman, co-lead counsel with the Impact Fund, who will commit to smaller discrimination cases. "Wal-Mart is not off the hook."

Betty Dukes, a plaintiff and class representative, has continued to work at a Wal-Mart store in Pittsburg, Calif., throughout the proceedings. "I am disappointed that we were not able to proceed collectively," she said. "The Supreme Court has ruled against all women of a poor background in this country. It will cost us quite a bit to fight one on one. We are determined to move forward and present our case in court. The truth will come out."

A fellow plaintiff and class representative, Christine Kwapnoski, said she will go to work at Sam's Club in Concord, Calif., tomorrow and "let them know we're still fighting. We're not done with Wal-Mart yet."

Read full story: Wal-Mart Wins Supreme Court Ruling In Historic Sex Discrimination Suit

See also:

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Readers: Do you agree with the ruling? Will this impact future gender discrimination cases or women's rights?